Observations from the 2015 Milken-Penn/GSE Education Business Plan Competition

In an occasional series, PreK-12 Learning Group staff will offer their observations from industry events. Dave Gladney, Director of Digital Initiatives, shares the trends he saw at the 2015 Milken-GSE/Penn Education Business Plan Competition

The goal of the competition is not to just talk about innovative education ideas, but to help entrepreneurs take their ideas to the next level by focusing as much on the strength of the business as the idea. This year there were two grand prizes: one for Ideas and one for more mature Ventures. Winners are also considered for the Education Design Studio Inc. (EDSi) Fellows program, a hybrid seed fund accelerator created in collaboration with the Graduate School of Education (GSE) at the University of Pennsylvania that supports early-stage education ventures from around the world by providing financial support and systematically applying business tools and frameworks.

  • The companies and business plans were really varied, focusing on areas that included reading, science, early education, special needs students (specifically with ADHD), higher ed LMSs, language learning, and student attendance. In fact, the grand prize winner was not a content company but a tool focused on monitoring and improving attendance in the PreK-12 space (Kinvolved)
  • While many of the products rely heavily on technology, it was really evident that all these entrepreneurs were truly focused on solving a specific problem; the technology was just a means to an end in reaching that goal more effectively.
  • Many of the entrepreneurs said they have made conscious decisions—at least early in their development—to market direct to consumer rather than attempt to break into the school market. Selling into schools is seen as a big hurdle and not something that startups are equipped to do. Many of them do have plans to enter the school market in later iterations of their product or further along in their lifecycle.
  • One of the things judges kept emphasizing was efficacy. It seems like research is a challenge for start-ups because their products are so new, and it’s difficult to get access to large numbers of users. A few have done pilots with one or two classes, and some are actively seeking university partners to do larger studies.

Read about the winners of the 2015 competition.

Digital Issues