15 EdTech Leaders You Should Revere — That Just Happen to Be Women
Mission-driven leaders pegged to authenticity, evidence, and purpose
As educator, edtech investor, and ecosystem advocate, I have had the sincere delight to work with, teach, advise, coach, and invest in a multitude of women over the last thirty years. I am also married to a woman and am a parent of two young women who are on the cusp of undergraduate pursuits. My experience tells me that if you want something done, women get there first, with less ego and posturing in the wake of execution, and with an empathy that builds a scalable culture. But, that’s just my opinion.
The fact is that education is driven considerably more by women than men, by a 2-to-1 margin or more. The fact that many women have started or are starting edtech solutions to the problems they have encountered is no real surprise. Veteran edtech leader Bobbie Kurshan and Penn GSE Doctoral Candidate Cat McManus opined on the subject in Forbes here.
Women are increasingly entrepreneurial. The facts underline this. The problem is that the purse strings that might unlock growth capital are majority controlled by white men in blue coats or perhaps blue shirts. While some have successfully navigated this male-dominated, syndication-dependent investment network, this is changing all too slowly.
In addition to a male-dominated investor base, women in the broader tech industry are working with decks that are overwhelming stacked against them. Women own 5% of all tech start-ups and make up just 11% of executives at Fortune 500 companies. However, an increasing number of leaders (women and men) are changing the slope of this trendline.
The image displayed in the header of this post depicts five education technology leaders who, IMHO, are archetypes of an industry that continues to tilt toward data and impact, diversity in culture, and excellence in outcomes. I have been fortunate enough to meet and smart enough to invest in the companies these women have founded or led. Two-thirds of these companies have exited, very positively for all concerned. The other third is on the way up, driven by younger founders solving intractable problems in school culture and financial resource allocation. I could not be more proud and positive of my association with these edtech leaders.
Jamie Post Candee arrived at Minneapolis-based Questar Assessment in late 2013 in a wobbly patch in the company’s history. In short, from a former board director’s perspective, Jamie transformed Questar’s team, culture, distribution, product effectiveness, and financial outcomes. Questar was acquired by ETS slightly more than three years after her arrival, a fantastic outcome for all.
Susan Magsamen founded Baltimore-based Curiosityville in early 2010 and grew the early childhood platform into a very good fit via 2014 acquisition by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s suite of offerings. The genius of the characterization, engagement, and learning for the earliest learners remains intact.
Allison Duquette was a senior executive in two companies with very different K-12 solutions. She was pivotal in pointing Baltimore-based Spectrum K12 in a trajectory where exit was imminent and was critical to a very similar outcome at Pittsburgh-based Think Through Learning. Interestingly, both companies achieved major rebrands under her leadership.
Jen Medbery is one of those nationally renowned, Forbes 30 Under 30 edtech leaders emanating from Teach for America (TFA); she brought a unique combined background as teacher and software developer to found Kickboard in 2009. The school culture platform has grown nationally from its nascent New Orleans headquarters and raised over $8 million to address the sincere challenge.
Jess Gartner is one of the more courageous, tenacious, edupreneurs I have met. After teaching in Baltimore City buttressed up to a TFA stint, Jess found a problem not exactly in her direct wheelhouse that was intractable and screaming to be solved. Running right at the problem, Allovue was born in 2013 on the single premise that public K-12 district and state resources were being infuriatingly wasted and ultimately not reaching the intended end user, the student.
And what about emerging or seed stage edtech companies that abound throughout the U.S.? Below are ten tenacious leaders and their seven respective companies, who just happen to be members of TU Incubator.
Beth Lawrence + Deena Seifert — Founders, Baltimore-based InferCabulary (K-12 vocabulary made visual)
Nicole Tucker-Smith — Founder, Baltimore-based Lessoncast (platform to capture & share examples of effective teaching & learning)
Fran Bowman + Stephanie Nislow — Founders, Baltimore-based OgStar Reading (gamified app for exceptional K-12 readers)
Katie Egan + Bethany Meyer — Founders, Baltimore-based CourseArc (platform for easy online course design and integration)
Nancy Weinstein — Founder, Princeton-based Mindprint Learning (online evaluation of K-12 student strengths/needs for personalized learning pathways)
Kati Razidwon—Founder, Portland-based iFlipd (postsecondary textbook rental solution)
Sabari Raja — Founder, Austin-based Nepris (connecting industry to classrooms)
The above fifteen edtech leaders are all entrepreneurs and operators. This is where innovation, impact, and effectiveness thrive. There are lots of other amazing, highly accomplished women with whom I have worked, advised, invested, and kicked tires in the edtech industry. Shout outs to Allison Baum (VC investor), Jennifer Carolan (VC investor), Elizabeth Chou (VC investor), Jean Halle (operator), Sarah Hemminger (founder), Phyllis Hillwig (founder), Katie Palenscar (founder), Jenna Shaw (founder), and a plethora of others who I hold in the highest regard.
So, what’s the point of this post, Frank? Stand up a list of women leaders and you are part of the inclusive, anti-Dave McClure crowd? Well, no, actually. Anyone who really knows me is acutely aware that I tilt heavily to steak over sizzle. Pixie dust need not apply. The above women edtech leaders fit this thesis. In all candor, women will far outmatch men when it comes to building and scaling leading edtech companies, particularly when it comes to evidence-based impact at scale. You’ll just have to take my scar-riddled word for it. There are men who have gotten lucky in edtech (particularly K-12) but most of these are partnered with a woman who often catalyzed their success in unsung ways. Trust me, I know…
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I am an edupreneur, edtech investor, and teacher-coach located in Baltimore, MD. As the director of TU Incubator, I help support Maryland’s largest cluster of edtech companies.