Are Most Edtech Startups Doomed to Fail? What Success Means in Edtech

Photo courtesy of BU Today

Photo courtesy of BU Today

This week, Wikispaces cofounders James Byers and Adam Frey wrote an extremely informative article titled “How to Succeed in Education Technology,” which appeared on EdSurge this week. The article is a wake-up call to any aspiring entrepreneurs who think they can make a quick buck by developing a product for the currently trendy education space, as Byers and Frey outline what they believe it takes to become a successful, lasting education technology company.

First they assert that most of today’s education technology startups are “doomed to fail,” for the following reasons:

  • They get into the education space because it’s popular right now, not because they have a lasting passion for it.
  • Their business model isn’t appropriate for education and they err on the side of not charging customers.
  • Investors who don’t understand the education market have unrealistic expectations for these startups.
  • Building hot new technology is easier than communicating with teachers and students about what they really need.

Byers and Frey go on to define what they believe is success in edtech:

“We define success in edtech as building a sustainable company that improves student outcomes, empowers teachers, and increases the reach and efficiency of educational institutions.”

They explain that edtech companies have a higher duty to towards their customers than in most markets, as their products are affecting students, teachers, and administrators. Therefore, if a company’s products aren’t sustainable over a long period of time, they could leave schools who have adopted their product in a lurch if their company folds.

Byers and Frey emphasize the importance of serving both students and teachers, pointing out that the best way to achieve student adoption is by going through teachers, who know what products are going to best help their students succeed. They also emphasize the importance of collecting data on how students are using a product to succeed, as that evidence, although it takes time to develop, will ultimately increase adoption.

Although many edtech companies these days seek to bypass educational institutions when promoting adoption, Byers and Frey present an opposing viewpoint, arguing that the institutions have the most money to spend on these products, making widespread adoption possible. Educational institutions nowadays are most often influenced by testimonies of how products work with their own students and teachers, proving that bottom-up has replaced top-down when it comes to adoption in institutions. “Successful edtech products will draw a clear line between product adoption and improved student outcomes and empower teachers to succeed with the product before it is adopted by their institutions,” they write.

Byers and Frey go on to outline best practices for edtech companies in creating business models and marketing. This article is a must-read for edtech entrepreneurs, teachers, administrators, students, and anyone interested in education, for that matter. It ends on this important note:

It’s an exciting time to build technology for education. There’s a revolution underway at every level of the ecosystem, one that will see a wave of new startups bringing tremendous value to students, teachers, and institutions. We hope that some of these startups eschew the go-big-or-go-home mentality of Silicon Valley, and take a patient view of this market, respecting the educational dollar and believing in the value of authentic grass-roots engagement. Those who do will ultimately make the biggest impact on education and have the best chance of success for themselves, their companies, and their investors.

Do you agree with Byers and Frey? Edtech startups, what’s your definition of success in today’s market? Sound off in the comments below, or share your thoughts on Twitter @Technapex or @ce_doyle.

Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.

More Posts

About Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.
  • http://twitter.com/LearningsLiving Sam Patterson

    Although it may be difficult to understand for companies, education is an ecosystem built on service and relationship.

    • http://twitter.com/SrinivasSuraj Suraj Srinivas

      Agreed but is this how it should be? Isn’t it for this same reason that it has failed to keep pace with the increasing rate at which the world is changing? Start-ups, large companies and educators need to come together and work towards this change. If they do so, there is great potential for mutual benefit.