PeakSpan is thrilled to share our first EdTech Roundtable Discussion (following the unveiling of our EdTech K-12 Landscape) — hosted by our EdTech Theme Lead and Partner, Sanket Merchant, and featuring three of our esteemed experts in the K-12 space: Courtney Reilly, Mindy Frisbee, and Dr. David Miyashiro. The full video can be viewed here, but if you don’t have time to watch, we have put together a shortened ‘Too Long Didn’t Watch’ (TLDW) piece that synthesizes the key takeaways.
PeakSpan has been incredibly fortunate to partner with some of the most influential leaders in the EdTech industry, hailing from different disciplines and segments of the broader ecosystem. They bring invaluable and highly complementary perspectives that help paint a vivid picture of the state of education (broadly) and the EdTech market as a whole. Below is a brief background overview of our discussion’s participants:
Read on to learn more about the themes discussed at our roundtable, including questions, takeaways, and some of our favorite quotes!
Q: How do you think the forecasted challenging and uncertain economic environment will impact educational technology and budgets (particularly in K-12)?
Per Courtney: “It’s hard to shift that [status-quo] mindset, and so education technology and especially when it comes to Edtech that’s supporting what are not considered core areas continues to be seen as a nice to have… EdTech companies who can quantifiably demonstrate their impact in terms of cost savings or outcomes will have a much better leg to stand on when districts are thinking about cutting.”
Q: What do you think of the impact of this challenging economic environment on the timing of budgetary decisions — is it lagging, or when might you see the upcoming impact on procurement cycles?
Per Mindy: “Technology-powered schools and classrooms are here to stay… What’s really important is that those decision-makers and users, when it comes to teachers and students, are taking a more detailed look at what sorts of solutions and how it’s helping advance their goals, not just an add-on, not just an added tool.”
Q: How well do you think startups and entrepreneurs in the ecosystem are utilizing the influx of funding (i.e. stimulus, public, grant, etc.) on the back of COVID, and how might they best take advantage of these dollars, particularly in collaboration with districts?
Per David: “The best vendors and Edtech partners before the pandemic were those that had relationships, good customer service, and leveraged other relationships that they had to gain access to district leaders and building leaders… After COVID, it’s really a good time to leverage relationships and partnerships through organizations like ISTE and CoSN.”
Q: What categories of EdTech do you think are likely to be most resilient in the face of a challenging economic environment, and what are some areas that might have seen success on the back of COVID but may fizzle away or face difficulty sustaining their recent success?
Per Courtney: “[We are] recalibrating how teachers and students use technology. We’ve really recognized how important those relationships between students and between students and teachers are, and so I think as we had been increasing the use of technology in the classroom, you saw more and more students spending time on technology as part of their classroom day. I think there might be less of that going forward and a rethinking about when students use technology, as vital as it is.”
Q: Have entrepreneurs and startups struggle with connecting their value proposition to a value driver that matters?
Per Mindy: “It’s necessary to show how solutions drive towards [impact & outcomes] and are aligned with the best practices and needs from the end-user. Historically it has been difficult to show evidence on outcomes, and more and more short-cycle solutions are becoming available to help providers illustrate solution impact.”
Q: Have you noticed any trends amongst successful companies — whether they are specific roles, types of professionals/leaders, or initiatives they are leading that lead to product market fit, greater market opportunity, and/or product improvements?
Per Mindy: “I don’t necessarily think it’s about a person or a background or a skill set. I think it’s about a company’s culture that prioritizes that ongoing conversation. It’s about the relationship, to really understand what are the challenges and is the culture of your company and your product strategy aligned with that ongoing conversation with educators and taking that and really applying it and making solutions that are driven by the needs and the contexts of where they’ll be used.”
Q: In contrast to the obvious tailwinds that have accelerated EdTech with COVID, what are some of the headwinds that entrepreneurs and startups might be able to anticipate and adequately position themselves around as we head into 2023?
Per David: “The value proposition we brought when we introduced digital learning for this current school district was, if we do it, right, we’re going to see less tech, more human. So, introducing technology is actually going to enable more human interaction with individuals in small groups, and just-in-time instruction with kids. If we do it right in education, conversations between parents, students, and teachers will be so much more on point, and there’ll be so much more time for them because the blocking and tackling of teaching/learning/assessment could be done by a machine. So, the human part of it, the problem-solving part of it, and the relationship side can be the focus of the interactions.”
Q: What can entrepreneurs do to be prepared for a shift to more normalized procurement cycles in 2023–2024, whether that is a shift from teacher-led sales to a more top-down approach, or just anticipating the build-out of more stringent security, data, and integration requirements in a more developed procurement environment in 2023 and beyond?
Per Courtney: “Educators and teachers have always been involved, but they are now shifting from users to critical consumers, and through this, they are gaining much greater agency in the decision-making process. This lends positively towards bottoms-up, freemium models that we have seen across the industry on the company side, whereas schools and districts can respond to this trend through professional development opportunities, income growth, and iterative school-wide conversations.”
Q: Where do you see the biggest opportunity and pain points over the next 24–36+ months in EdTech?
Per David: “[I see] the Great Resignation as an opportunity and also a challenge, in terms of making work better for the people who work in education. I think the value proposition now is that all the solutions out there will make the work so much better, so much more engaging, and so much more efficient for teachers and anybody else in the building. But building leaders right now are too afraid to ask their teachers to do one more thing, but that one more thing is going to improve the quality of their experience. It’s an opportunity to make work better and make the job of teacher much more appealing again, because it’s been hard for the last three years. This is the opportunity to take the Great Resignation and make it the Great Reengagement of public education.”
A special thanks to Courtney, Mindy, and David for their exceptional contributions to this discussion and our broader EdTech Expert Community for their continued invaluable input and feedback. We greatly appreciate your continued collaboration, partnership and support!