First NYC 'EdTech Week' brings together innovative minds in education


Startups are going to make a big splash at the inaugural New York EDTECH WEEK, which is bringing nascent companies together with policymakers and education stakeholders in the Big Apple.

The event, happening Dec. 19-21, will be held at New York University and is scheduled to feature high-profile speakers including Ted Mitchell, the undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education who oversees programs related to higher education; NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina; Larry Berger, CEO of Amplify; Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio; and Jim Shelton, a former Education Department deputy who was tapped by Mark Zuckerberg to lead education programs at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

“EDTECH WEEK is a festival for global education innovation,” Jonathan Harber, producer of the event and co-founder of accelerator StartED, said in an interview with EdScoop. “If you think about it, Fashion Week is for fashion, and we hope NY EDTECH WEEK will grow into that for education innovation and education technology.”

The week will be broken up into two parts: a “think tank” series and a “shark tank” series, he said. The first day will be more policy-oriented, with featured guests talking about the most pressing problems in education today.

“The first day, we have policymakers and practitioners defining problems. So we’ll have government officials, CEOs, media, foundations and think tanks discussing everything from early childhood to workforce development,” Harber said. “What are the policies, what should they be, and then what are the problems and opportunities?”

Donald Trump’s presidency and its approach to higher education will likely be a hot topic, Harber said.

“I’m sure there will be lots of discussion around the new administration,” he said.

Officials from companies like Civitas Learning, a data science platform for colleges and universities, will explain how statistics can be used to drive graduation rates.

“A big problem in education is that only 35 percent of our population makes it through college,” Harber said. “So a company like Civitas will be talking about how it uses data to help drive completion rates and provide the kind of alerts and programming that keep kids in and through college.”

Other innovators, like Jake Schwartz, CEO and cofounder at incubator General Assembly, will speak on microcredential systems, and how the cost of higher education can be reduced while access can be increased through online credentialing platforms.

During the second “shark tank” day, 40 companies will be able to make three-minute pitches to investors and scout for seed funding or other forms of financial support. The startups — nine of which will graduate from Harber’s StartED accelerator — will also be able to schedule 30-minute meetings with investors on another floor called the “Gallery of Innovation.”

One of StartED’s participating companies, Admission Table, created an app that allows international students to seek college counseling while applying to U.S. institutions. The app features an artificial intelligence bot that guides students who are making decisions about which college to attend.

“The counselor essentially works with the student through the pipeline to matriculate into U.S. universities,” Harber said.

Harber said one of the main takeaways for the startups is to grow their networks.

Edtech developers got a glimpse of the growing potential for their products, and the impact of publicly available seed money, during another exposition staged in Washington on Wednesday by the Department of Education. The exposition showcased 50 educational games and technologies that benefitted from federal Small Business Innovation Research funds to help bring their ideas to market.

“I think the best scenario for a startup company will be that they had a half-dozen to a dozen meetings with potential investors, and they will have follow-up conversations over the next month or two,” Harber said. “And they would close around financing. It may also be that they’ve gotten connections to potential customers or strategic partners who are interesting in partnering for distribution or helping to advance their companies.”

Harber added that the big-city setting will be appropriate for startups, investors, students and faculty members who are looking for the next big thing in edtech.

“If you look at the ecosystem, New York City has the largest school district, the largest community college network, headquarters for the largest education publishers and the largest investor groups,” he said.

Editor’s note: This article was corrected to reflect that Jason Schwartz is CEO and cofounder of General Assembly, not product manager. EdScoop regrets the error.

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