"What Every Edtech Startup Should Sell: Classroom Solutions, Not Products" - 1776 Global Incubator Report

RE@L logo_Corp_color_RGB-high-REZ 1776

1776 Venture Capital” is a global incubator and seed fund that believes startups can change the world. They are building a global community to provide the intellectual, social and financial capital these startups need to succeed. They bring a strong and powerful message for those of us in reform who believe change needs to happen in our K12 classrooms. Recently, we’ve seen hundreds of millions of dollars spent on computers and mobile devices for our nation’s classrooms, without the detailed planning and staff training to make them effective.

It is a waste of taxpayer’s money, a diversion from valid learning principles, a waste of teacher and student time, and gives a bad name to putting useful tech tools in the hands of kids and teachers. RustyGrieffMelissaSteffanRead this abridged excerpt from their recent website publication, as written by Managing Director Randy Grieff and Assistant Editor Melissa Steffan. We will add our own RE@L commentaries.


1776: “One of the most common themes we heard during Challenge Festival throughout our education-related programming—from the daytime conference, to the startup pitches, to Keynote Night—was that education technology innovators often struggle with understanding the impact of their products with their actual end-users.

“The idea first arose during Monday’s education conference, when Everfi CEO Tom Davidson mentioned innovators’ tendency to—as he called it—“crop dusting.” Edtech crop dusting occurs when a company tries to drop its product onto a wide swath of schools or classroom, without really stopping to evaluate the product’s effectiveness.

“And more often than not, that approach isn’t very effective. Often, it actually creates more confusion and disorientation for teachers and learners, the end users these products are trying to support.

Unknown-1RE@L adds: That is precisely what is happening with the infusion of mobile devices into classrooms without a plan for use, training for teachers and regular updates and reports on progress. Los Angeles schools experienced multiple instructional issues due to a lack of careful planning and staff training.

Unknown-21776: “D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson raised a similar concern: …. many edtech applications purport to have a dashboard that will streamline students’ data into one, easy-to-use platform. It sounds simple, but what if a teacher uses three or four different edtech products, each with different functions? If each of those products has its own dashboard, suddenly students’ data is split across an array of programs—and one startup’s simple solution suddenly becomes a pain point. Many well-intentioned and talented entrepreneurs design siloed strategies and product impact without factoring in the more holistic approach for the overwhelmed teacher, student or parent.

UnknownRE@L adds:  Teachers and students and parents are inundated with more meaningless data than ever before with the profusion of standardized testing. Worse, it leads to no helpful changes or reform. Dashboards only confuse the issues by adding further distractions of uninterpretable data.

1776: “If that seems backwards, it is or it certainly can be. At times, entrepreneurs—with their demands on product timelines, distribution, fundraising, team building, and validation pilots—can find themselves surprisingly out of touch with the actual populations they serve.

“This miscalculation became a consistent theme across all of our industry verticals throughout the week. Moreover, it laid the groundwork for another theme: sell solutions to problems, not just products.

“But what does that actually look like in practice? Successful edtech companies start by getting students and teachers involved in the product development process. That’s exactly what Chris Johnson and the team at Permission Click, a competitor at last week’s Challenge Festival, did. According to Johnson, Permission Click interviewed stakeholders at more than 70 schools to understand how to shape the solution before even putting a finger to the keyboard to build the product.

RE@L adds: This is precisely what REAL does with its products. We talk to teachers, students and parents to get their valuable input before, during and after product development. Knowledge changes, kids change, classrooms change….so also do our products need to continue to meet the needs of the learners. We used that feedback process years ago with MECC software and we have continued to refine it today.


MobileClassroom1776: “If student success is the key goal, then entrepreneurs must not incorporate students’ & teachers’ voices in the process simply because it’s good practice. Rather, entrepreneurs need to include users’ voices in order to ensure that the technology actually facilitates learning outcomes.

“Solutions—not just stand-alone products—demand collaborative and coherent alignment across the critical stakeholders. The sophisticated entrepreneur understands that he or she must sell a solution, not just a product, to meet a classroom need.

“And the only way to recognize classroom needs is to get back to intensive farming, rather than crop dusting. As Everfi’s Davidson says, edtech innovators need to get “boots on the ground working with teachers.” That’s when technology implementation has the greatest opportunity to be successful.”

RE@L adds: These are critically important caveats from 1776.

  • It’s not how many bells ring and whistles blow….
  • It’s how many minds expand and kids want to learn.
  • It’s how many teachers are satisfied that more kids are learning more.
  • It’s how many parents are pleased with the progress their child makes in school and wants to learn more.

Thanks to 1776 Venture Capital for their insight into making EdTech reform work more effectively in our K12 classrooms everywhere. RE@L also remains pledged to offering solutions, and not just products. Please email your comments or questions to:  comments@realexperiencesatlife.com

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.