By Angelo Biasi
As an entrepreneur, founder, investor, publisher, mentor, writer, and coach serving the EdTech community for over twenty years, I realize the value of individual stakeholders within the ecosystem as well as the sum of their collective contributions to advance and transform the space. For those who lay claim to a career in EdTech, the community is unique and exciting with a common privilege, passion, responsibility and purpose shared by all: To support learners and the workforce with innovative solutions that solve big enough problems.
Specialized EdTech accelerator organizations and events play a special role within the EdTech ecosystem. It is where professionals learn, share, develop relationships, and grow themselves and their businesses. This got me thinking… What if these events or organizations did not exist? How would that impact the future of education and workforce and the pace of transformation? Would problems go unsolved for longer, or indefinite, periods of time? Would capital resources become scarce or harder to allocate? And, where would that leave the stakeholders and learners, in general?
StartEd is one such organization that has been committed to EdTech since 2015. As a startup entrepreneur, I participated in one of their first accelerator programs, spending a full week learning, pitching and networking, along with a cohort of seven other global EdTech founders. One investor meeting I had during that pivotal week led to a Series A capital raise within 90 days! In addition, I have participated in several StartEd events – speaking, mentoring and learning. Needless to say, I have a deep appreciation for the opportunities and access to professional resources that StartEd provides for building the EdTech community. Unlike other organizations that focus on later stage companies, StartEd supports those mostly in the early or growth stage, and not-for-profits, with many of them founded by unrepresented entrepreneurs. It is these entrepreneurs and companies that usually need the most support to understand the landscape, fine tune their pitch, as well as test, fund, and bring to market, the “next big innovation.”
I had the unique opportunity to sit down with StartEd’s Founder, Ash Kaluarachchi, for a brief interview regarding the past, present, and future of Education Technology.
Angelo: Ash, thank you for joining me today to discuss the exciting work you are doing with StartEd. To begin, what inspired you to create this organization?
Ash: After investing in over 100 education technology companies, I realized there was a real need to support entrepreneurs in this space with the right mix of patient funding, expert mentoring and long-term community. The goal with StartEd is to attract and develop an army of innovators, and solve problems at every stage of their journey, to ensure equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Angelo: That’s wonderful. And how exactly does StartEd help education entrepreneurs?
Ash: We provide affordable executive education programs, events, and access to a network of experts. Unlike traditional accelerators, our focus is on education and community building rather than just investment, so we do not dilute entrepreneurs’ ownership. We want to support founders at every point of their journey, which is often enabled by scholarships from foundations, large tech and governments. This means we can be 10x more inclusive than a traditional model, and the 1000 companies we support every year get personalized support.
Angelo: You mentioned this started in New York. How has that shaped StartEd’s approach
Ash: Great question. New York has become an epicenter for education innovation. With some of the largest school districts and universities, there is so much customer involvement and creative energy focused on improving education here. StartEd aims to harness that energy through our programs and annual EdTech Week conference.
Angelo: I understand this year’s EdTech Week is quickly approaching! Can you share more about it?
Ash: Absolutely! EdTech Week, happening this year in NYC on October 2 – 5, is a gathering of over 1,000 educators, investors, and entrepreneurs exploring the future of education. We have speakers, mentoring sessions, a $100K investment competition, and even a Broadway production about the Modern Classroom. It is all about learning, networking, and directing the future of the industry as a collective of diverse stakeholders.
After investing in over 100 education technology companies, I realized there was a real need to support entrepreneurs in this space with the right mix of patient funding, expert mentoring and long-term community.
Angelo: As we look ahead, what do you see as the biggest opportunities in education?Ash: I am hopeful we’ll see more integration of post-secondary and workforce learning programs. In addition, I see a focus on serving non-traditional learners who have been most impacted by the pandemic and other inequities. Supporting these groups needs to be a priority. We’re also seeing alternate funding sources growing as an opportunity to help start, grow and sustain innovative EdTech companies.Angelo: Please share your perspective on AI and its future impact on the EdTech space.
Ash: With AI being such a transformative technology now and into the future, we are paying particular attention to how it impacts every aspect of the learning and workforce development process – from content creation to teacher assistance to corporate talent enrollment and everything in between. With so much innovation happening in this area, equal access to understanding and implementing AI’s potential is needed more than ever. We are particularly excited to serve as the resource for training and assessing EdTech innovators and educators enabling and expediting all the benefits that AI has to offer.
Angelo: To wrap up, how do you see StartEd’s role in navigating all the disruption in EdTech?
Ash: We are a fixed point for innovators – we provide a map and a compass, connecting entrepreneurs to the right mix of incentives, expertise, and advice to survive and move forward, forward, even when things feel chaotic. There’s so much potential, and we are honored to support the innovators making a difference.
Angelo: Ash, thank you for this inspiring work and for joining me today. I know ET Magazine readers will be excited to learn more about StartEd’s mission. Wishing you all the best!Ash: Thank you Angelo, it was a pleasure!
My takeaway from this interview is simple. There’s never been a greater need than now for the EdTech ecosystem to ignite, foster, and support solutions to big problems. Not only does the future of education depend on it but so to, does our future workforce. Thanks to organizations like StartEd, we, the collective ecosystem and individual stakeholders, can navigate and manage this change – learning, failing, iterating, succeeding, and growing, each step of the way.
About the author
Angelo Biasi is an exited/serial entrepreneur-turned business performance coach. He is passionate about helping EdTech leaders, committed to change, scale their businesses efficiently while reaching their personal and professional potential.
He is currently accepting applications for a unique 6-month Founder’s Forum journey for a cohort of like-minded business Owner-Founders. Learn more at www.angelobiasi.com or email him at email@example.com.