ImagineK12, the Palo Alto incubator has a second great cohort of ten edu-startups. Rob Hutter and I visited yesterday. Rob kicked off our discussion meeting by noting that iPhone apps and Facebook apps were not around five years ago and suggesting that the next five years in education can be as transformational as the last five years were in consumer.
With a help from the ImagineK12 team, we discused 10 lessons for edupreneurs:
1. You don’t need to invent new technology, you can apply widely used tools to make a difference in education (i.e., translational innovation using social, predictive analytics, CRM).
2. Primary innovations are more challenging (i.e., expensive) but will include big breakthroughs in the second half of this decade in categories like motivation sciences.
3. You can work an old problem or a new opportunity, but you have a small window to build a solution and demonstrate some traction.
4. Build something that authentically delights a community of users.
5. Content revenues will continue to compress but there is a big opportunity to sell related student, teacher, and school services.
6. If you can integrate systems down (states and district) and bottom up (teacher, students, parent) you have a better chance of success.
7. Demonstrate learning and operating productivity. There is an inevitable march toward productivity. We’re only 14 months in to what Duncan called the ‘new normal’ decade. Education will slowly shed unproductive traditions and adopt new technologies. The key is finding the right window and place (#3) where you have a shot at helping.
8.Find investors that support your approach especially if you plan a long customer acquisition phase before turning on revenue sources.
9. Investors build portfolios in categories of interest. The right investor will be interested in your category without a direct investment that competes–that means you may need to approach a lot of potential investors to find the right fit.
10. Keep a contribution mindset. Your work is advancing the sector–it’s helping kids learn and schools get better. You may miss a window, your company may fail, but it’s really about making a difference. If you are persistent you will have the opportunity to grow a business and make a big impact.
I told the second cohort that we have the opportunity to build low cost blends will extent secondary education to more than 500 million young people around the world that don’t have it today.
The ImagineK12 team–Alan Louie, Tim Brady, and Geoff Ralston–are making good company choices, giving good advice, and having fun.