Back-to-school means books, backpacks, and these days, mobile devices.
From social networks to smartphones, schools are opening up to the technologies they once banned, embracing them as valuable tools for both students and teachers. This is thanks in part to a new wave of educational startups that offer innovative ways for school districts and teachers to engage with technology in the classroom.
“Tech has radically shifted how we think about productivity and learning, yet we're still teaching our children the same way we taught them 100 years ago,” says Geoff Ralston, founder of 2-year-old education technology incubator Imagine K12. “But there’s a gravitational force to change that.”
Entrepreneurs are hungry to effect change, and investors see an opportunity to create scalable companies that make a difference. Ralston believes we’re only seeing the tip of iceberg of what’s possible from ed-tech, which boasts some of the fastest growing mobile startups.
Here are three startups to watch:
Jeff O’Hara and Nicolas Borg were working as IT professionals for the Chicago school district in 2008 when they decided to start Edmodo, a free Facebook-style platform that allows teachers and students to connect and collaborate securely. Edmodo has grown to over 100 employees and built up a base of over 21 million registered teachers and students, largely through word of mouth. Last year, Edmodo launched a third-party developer platform, and the Edmodo App Store now offers over 550 free and premium education apps. The company created an annual professional global development conference, EdmodoCon, and recently launched a revamped iPad app. As for the future, look for an initiative with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation.
After graduating from the first Imagine K12 incubator class in 2011, Class Dojo co-founders Sam Chaudhary and Liam Don were armed with a background in education, seed capital, and interviews with thousands of teachers about the biggest time-suck they faced at school – behavior management. The result? A free online tool that helps teachers improve classroom behavior through positive reinforcement (with the help of fuzzy monster avatars). Class Dojo has nine employees and approximately 15 million registered teachers and students worldwide. Looking ahead, the company is focused on beefing up mobile offerings, helping teachers share information within schools, and creating ways for students take ownership of their behavior.
Last year, TeachersPayTeachers.com (TpT) made headlines when a teacher earned a million dollars selling her lesson plans through the website. Paul Edelman, a former New York City schoolteacher, founded the company in 2006 as a way for teachers to share lesson plans and make a little extra cash. These days, TpT has nearly 1.9 million registered users, sellers, and buyers. The company generated over $30 million in sales last year, with 80 percent of profits going to teacher-sellers. What next? Edelman recently stepped down as CEO, allowing former Head of Product John Yoo to step into the role. Expect to see new ways for teachers to share expertise, including professional development plans and mentoring programs.