Education is a unique and sometimes unpredictable industry. And if you are launching a startup in edtech niche, you need to be prepared for the specific and often quirky challenges that you face as you attempt to market and sell your products and services.
Educators are their own “breed of cat,” and organizational structures are not necessarily those you will find in business organizations.
“Edtech startups have the potential to truly transform the world of education over the next several years,” says Slava Orishechko of Unplag.com, “and that’s why they are just so exciting and challenging at the same time. You are bound to offer a great product that will benefit the students, the educators and the administration at the same time!”
Here are 5 of the biggest hurdles you will have to clear if you intend to survive and, indeed, thrive in the edtech industry.
1. Resistance to Change
It is almost paradoxical that the institutions that are to bring us the next great leaders and innovators are often those that are so resistant to change. Educators are comfortable with the familiar and are notoriously slow to “move.” They like their traditional classrooms with students all seated at their desks, textbooks “at the ready.”
Add to this the fact that teachers and administrators also perceive real threats to their professions with many of the current edtech “movements” (think MOOCs and expansion of them to K-12 venues), and you will understand the resistance you may encounter.
Your job will be to provide the research and data that demonstrate better student learning outcomes – this they will listen to, because they are increasingly being held accountable for student performance.
2. Disconnect Between Users and Purchasers
The users of edtech are classroom teachers and students. District administrators and Boards of Education do not experience any edtech first hand. And yet they are the individuals responsible for establishing budgets and approving expenditures. It certainly would make sense, then, to include these decision-makers in your overall marketing strategy.
Dan Toplitt, Associate Director and CEO of Resolution Media, says, “My own two cents is to encourage all Edtech entrepreneurs to start hyper-local and sit down and talk with all the different stakeholders.”
3. Ongoing Professional Development
In the business world, this is called “training,” and you need to be certain that your marketing package includes provisions for all initial training relative to your software/platform and a commitment to continued training as updates and changes are made. If you do not do this, the investment they have made will be under-utilized, and ultimately “canned.” You lose a client.
4. Student Privacy Concerns
Policies and practices still need to be worked out at the school/district level, but you must ensure that there is no risk of student data compromise through use of your products and services.
As Larry Johnson, CEO of New Media Consortium, recently stated: “If we don’t solve the concerns that people have about big data and privacy of students, we’re going to miss a huge opportunity.”
5. The Cost
Educational budgets are extremely thin and getting thinner. And outside funding sources are increasingly drying up. Part of your job may be to research private funding sources and to come up with creative payment plans. Some startups have even provided their technology on a free-trial basis to a single school in a district, hoping that its success will result in a paying client. If you can do this locally, where you can control implementation and appropriate use, this may be an option.