5 takeaways from Day 1 of the ASU-GSV ed tech summit

Being a grad student has its financial drawbacks, but this week, I won the lottery: a full-ride to the ASU-GSV summit, which The New York Times called “the must-attend event for education technology investors.”

Here are five favorite quotes from my day:

1) “What’s your learning science foundation?” 
-Bror Saxberg (Chief Learning Officer @ Kaplan)

Have you ever heard of Richard Mayer? …Me neither. According to Dr. Bror Saxberg, Richard Mayer is the most cited learning scientist in the country, yet in a room full of graduate students studying education, not one person had heard of him. Bror raised this question to illustrate how little ed tech is utilizing learning science or an evidence-centered design process. He encouraged us to ask every ed tech company we meet: “What’s your learning science foundation?”

2) “What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?” 
-Jonathan Harber (CEO @ Harber Advisors)

As a student at Stanford Graduate School of Business, I’ve been practicing elevator pitches since day one. However, under the scrutiny of Jonathan Harber, I totally wilted. “What do you want to do after graduating in June?” he asked. I smiled, held eye contact, and jumped into my spiel: “I’m interested in health and wellness in education — ” Jonathan cut me off before I could start describing my startup. “Health and wellness in education. What does that even mean?” he grilled. “Can you name five companies in that space?”

I froze. “GoNoodle…they offer brain breaks. PeekaPac…they focus on character education. And many schools are implementing programs to boost social-emotional learning…” I trailed off and started mumbling. I needed to be rescued.

“The better you can articulate your mission, passion, and problem, the more things will come to you, rather than you going after them,” Jonathan patiently explained.

Clearly, my talking points needed work. I shared this painful anecdote with Jeanne Allen, Founder & CEO of the Center for Education Reform, and she agreed: “I would have cut you off at ‘I’m interested in.’ I want to know what you’re doing, not what you’re interested in.”

Point taken. Wish me luck on day two.

3) “Tech is easy. Sales and adoption? That’s the hard part.”
-John Katzman (CEO @ Noodle Education)

Nothing will scare ed tech investors away faster than saying your startup’s business model involves selling directly to K-12 school districts. As John Katzman will tell you, “K-12 is rocky soil” for many reasons (politics, bureaucracy, etc.), especially because it requires fielding a large sales force to compete in the “land war” that is antiquated district adoption.

4) “So often we default to a ‘vendor’ relationship rather than building a real partnership. It’s not like buying a toaster.” 
-Allison Dulin Salisbury (Director of Higher Ed Strategy @ EdSurge)

In a higher ed panel called “May the Best EdTech Products Win,” Allison Dulin Salisbury shared how ineffective “vendor relationships” can be when they aren’t approached like true partnerships.

I nodded my head vigorously.

5) “Nobody goes to the sessions. Your job is to talk to as many people as possible.” 

Business school was good preparation for the FOMO that is the ASU-GSV conference. I could sit in the back of a packed room and listen to others swap opinions, or I could forge a meaningful 1:1 connection by the pool.

Not a difficult choice.

End of day one. On to Day 2!

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