The Intersection of Education and Entrepreneurship

When we think about the world of entrepreneurship and its application in education, the innovations in education technology are often top of mind as a tool for disrupting the space, and rightfully so given the growth in the sector in the past decade. With a rich tradition of supporting both entrepreneurship and education at the Kauffman Foundation, we are beginning to ask big questions about the future of edtech and its role in our own local strategy for building and sustaining a robust ecosystem for education innovation.

While we are far from having answers, here are a few questions that are top of mind that I would encourage us all to consider heading into this conference and continuing in this sector:

What are the measures of success?

With headlines of continued growth in investment in education technologies, how are we as a community and sector measuring success in this space? Is it merely the number of new startups? Venture capital received? Or the illustrious pursuit of scale?

I would argue that while there are many indicators that validate the markets for education technology, we must push for deeper levels of research and development earlier in the lifecycle of a company and their products so that the ultimate measure of success is driving towards improved outcomes for kids. It’s easy to focus on valuation, capital raised, and market penetration, but it will require a disciplined approach and commitment to evaluation and research that will lead to better solutions that drive student learning.

Who is at the center?

As we have learned from several aspects of the education reform movement, the idea of doing work to or on a community, instead of in partnership with, similarly creates a great threat to edtech. If the innovation and solutions we are building in education are not centered around the practioners themselves — be it the students, teachers, leaders, or parents — the sector itself will not succeed.

The innovations that will drive the most change and impact must solve significant problems that our teachers, students, schools, parents and communities are facing today. Innovation for the sake of new and shiny won’t move the needle. We must encourage our entrepreneurs, if not the practioners themselves, to work closely with the end users throughout the entire development cycle to ensure we are creating solutions with our schools and families at the center.

How are we using the tools as an opportunity to expand equity for ALL kids?

Finally, one of the greatest opportunities we see with education technology is the ability to expand equity for ALL kids, in our community, country, and globally. The ever-growing body of content and knowledge available through technology will only be the most powerful tool for leveling the playing field if there is true access.

At the Kauffman Foundation we think about the potential for catalytic change driven by education technology, and believe that in order to achieve the desired changes there must remain a focus on access and equity that will solve the real problems that hold our schools and communities back, and whose ultimate measure of success is improving educational outcomes.