New options for education startups

It’s really cool to see startup funding options start to coalesce in the education and learning space. There’s always been various research grant funding available for interesting work, but when it comes to pushing that work out into the commercial sphere the options were a bit more limited. The SBIR program was one opportunity, but didn’t have a really strong connection to the education market per se, and presumes a much longer timeframe (compared to many software ventures) for development and getting to market.

Two relative new organizations are trying to change the landscape by building and leveraging community in the education and learning space. First, there’s Startl, which has been hosting multi-day Design Boost boot camps in San Francisco to help startups collaboratively push their designs forward, and three-month immersion programs in New York that culminates in a pitch day to prospective investors.

Startl’s position in the learning technologies market is connective: to form a “network of networks” that responds quickly to the most promising technological, pedagogical, and market opportunities. This model makes business sense, since starting a big new enterprise in the current climate seems impractical, as well as common sense: it unites the leading minds, institutions, and corporations in the learning arena in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Second, just this week we learned of the launch of Imagine K12, which is built on the successful YCombinator model, but focused expressly on education startups.

Our program is set up to take you and your idea from early stage to the point of being a company investable by seed investors (“angels”) or traditional venture capitalists. The three month program is immersive and intense. You are required to be in the SF Bay area during that time. The environment will be conducive to getting an initial prototype up and running and to honing a business plan and pitch. We will give you advice and get your product in the hands of real users for rapid feedback and iteration. During the program, you will also be introduced to educational experts, angel investors, venture capitalists and Silicon Valley luminaries that will inspire you, force you to crystalize your ideas and challenge you to create a more compelling product and company.

Both programs provide some funding (living expenses, basically) for the immersion programs in exchange for a small (~6%) equity stake. Based on YCombinator outcomes, that’s a worthwhile tradeoff. We’re really excited to see what kinds of startups come out of these efforts.