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Catalyzing Innovation for Education

Amy Benziger November 7, 2010

In the fall of 2009, President Obama announced the “Educate to Innovate” campaign with an initial 260 million dollar commitment from the private sector to push forward successful STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs across America. With the groundwork laid for strong public-private partnerships to launch programs to support this campaign, it’s been interesting to see an influx of innovative initiatives spring up challenging entrepreneurs to come to the table.

Receiving seed funding from Hewlett, MacArthur and Gates Researching, Startl was born as a “network of networks” – a way to focus energy and money on high potential educational technologies ready for scaling. Partnering with DreamIt Ventures, IDEO, and Berkery Noyes, the program holds product design boot camps, creates go-to-market strategies and identifies potential funding sources. They are looking for learner-centric models that they view as the “next generation of digital tools for learning.” Gates is also putting $20 million into the Next Generation Learning Challenges program which will be giving grants every 6-12 months for technology enabled learning solutions to increase college readiness in secondary and post secondary education. Currently accepting proposals, the winners will be announced in early 2011.

A more intensive program has been launched though the Kauffman Foundation. Kauffman Labs is putting out the call for education entrepreneurs to come onboard for a four-month immersion program to take their idea to scale. Accepted applicants will spend one month at the Kansas City headquarters defining the company, 2 months in an internship underneath a mentor, and a final month back at headquarters to take their learners into product execution. The fellows will be on a stipend akin to a 70k yearly salary with benefits. This program includes intensive training on all aspects of running a business in the hopes of not only launching the next Teach for Americas, but also to nail down the “science of startups” – what it takes to move an entrepreneur to a founder of a high growth business.

The next generation of students will grow up in a wired world. With 600 billion dollars in public dollar investments in school education, there is a huge incentive to create and scale those programs that are best equipped to engage and accelerate student learning, especially through technology. Looking forward to seeing how these programs help that effort.

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