Imagine K12 Gives Startups A $100K Boost

column | Incubators

Imagine K12 Gives Startups A $100K Boost

Startups' Ramen diet gets a bit more protein

By Betsy Corcoran (Columnist)     Apr 23, 2013

Imagine K12 Gives Startups A $100K Boost

Imagine K12, the first incubator for education technology startups, is upping the funding it provides to entrepreneurs to $100,000 per company beginning with the next cohort of companies, due to start in September 2013. In addition, Imagine K12 says it will shepherd one class of startups per year but will accept up to as many as 20 startups in that program.

That change will make the Imagine K12 program the best funded of the host of edtech incubators that have been springing up around the U.S. (Here's EdSurge's list of edtech incubators.) "We think companies need more time to figure out how to create value for education," says Geoff Ralston, a cofounder of Imagine K12. He and cofounder, Tim Brady, expect that the increase in funding should give startups about a year.

The changes come two years into Imagine K12's tenure. So far, the for-profit accelerator has helped create 39 startups, all aimed at building products and services that support K-12 education. (Here's EdSurge's list of Imagine K12's existing startups. And here's a detailed EdSurge profile of Imagine K12.)

Imagine K12 will debut its fourth cohort of companies at a by-invitation event next week at its offices in Palo Alto. And Imagine K12 is now accepting applications for the program that will begin in September. (Here's where you start.)

The new funding comes from an Imagine K12 Startup Fund, which is supported by Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, Yahoo! co-founder David Filo, Angela Filo, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, NewSchools Venture Fund, and GSV Asset Management. Startups accepted into the Imagine K12 program will receive $20K on acceptance and an additional $80K in convertible debt from the Startup Fund when the formal program begins in September. (Imagine K12 takes an equity stake of approximately 6% in each company.) Brady and Ralston told EdSurge that they have raised enough money to continue Imagine K12's program for at least three years.

For the past two years, Imagine K12 has hosted about 10 startup companies during two separate three-month sessions. Brady and Ralston said that by fusing the two programs together and having rolling admissions, they hope to have more time to support their fledgling companies -- both before and after they go through the accelerator programs.

"We've thought from the beginning that it would be great to get people we know excited about the prospect of funding edtech startups," Ralston said in an interview. "But we just didn't have enough proof points to go and ask the people we knew about raising a startup fund."

That's changed. Of the 30 Imagine K12 startups in the field, 18 have raised more than $30 million. Five Imagine K12 startups have raised A rounds. (Although not all have announced, EdSurge believes this list is Bloomboard, Class Dojo, Educreations, Hapara and LearnSprout.) Brady says he expects that number will double by the end of the year. Imagine K12 counts among its other "notable" startups TapToLearn, Remind101 and NoRedInk.

Some critics have asked whether the emphasis on startups means that founders are excessively focused on "small" problems. For instance, many educators still quietly grumble that there's a lack of attention on building great digital curriculum, possibly because that's a huge and complex task.

Ralston and Brady disagree.

Among the companies supported by Imagine K12 "we see a lot of variation in how 'big' the problem they're tackling is--but all the companies are tackling tenacious problems," says Ralston. "For instance, ClassDojo is taking on behavior management--that seems like a pretty big problem. Our companies are starting with intense problems--trying to identify a real and deep need that makes sense to us."

Adds Brady: "We push our teams to think through the 'here and now,' and then think about what they could become. Sometimes people don't get the whole story. Something that looks like just a feature today could be addressing a really big problem."

Brady and Ralston are Imagine K12's go-to guys. A third founder, Alan Louie, said earlier this year that he was shifting his personal time to focus on early childhood literacy issues.

"We've always tried to make entrepreneurship attractive to great entrepreneurs," Brady says. "We're building out our startup curriculum and network of teachers" so that companies will have strong beta testers. Boosting the initial funding will also help companies get started. "All things being equal, we think that working in edtechnology is now as attractive as consumer web."

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