Where do edtech entrepreneurs--many of whom are former educators-- find support as they navigate the ups and downs of building a company?
I posed this question to my panel at ETIS 2013, “Building an Edtech Ecosystem.” It really could have been titled “Women to Watch in Edtech” or “Women ‘Leaning In’ to Edtech.” Joining me were Katie Palenscar, (founder and CEO of Unbound Concepts, an edtech startup and graduate from Accelerate Baltimore and Socratic Labs), Jess Gartner (founder and CEO of Allovue, which also came out of Accelerate Baltimore), Heather Gilchrist (partner and program director at Socratic Labs), and Erica Gruen (principal at Quantum Media).
Each panelist shared the classic story of experiencing a pain point in her classroom and wanting to fix it. That was just the first step. Often, having mentors and seeing examples of other edupreneurs have helped educators realize that they could build a solution--and even a company.
That’s what happened to Gartner, who shared that seeing Katie Palenscar launch Unbound Concepts in the spring of 2012 inspired her to start her own company to tackle the problem of school resource allocation. And now that multiple schools signed up for her service, Gartner is the success story--and she tries to return the favor by mentoring like-minded entrepreneurs through the complexities of founding a company.
Gilchrist is “leaning in,” too, and lending a helping hand. Through her work at Socratic Labs, an incubator for edtech startups, Gilchrist shares her experiences from her previous experience at Grockit, a test prep startup. Gilchrist isn't content to support just the local NYC community, either. She spearheaded Socratic Labs’ Edtech Passport program, which seeks to connect human and capital resources in edtech ecosystems in New Orleans and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Even teachers who have left the field years ago often want to remain connected to education. Gruen represents a different and important aspect of the edtech community member by serving as an angel investor and advisor to startups. Beginning her career as a language arts teacher, curriculum developer, and education psychologist, Gruen shifted to entertainment, taking over The Food Network and selling it, after which she launched and sold Bravo. She now serves as a mentor for Socratic Lab (as well as an angel investor in Unbound Concepts), where she advises edtech startups on marketing and business strategies.
As these entrepreneurs blaze their own trails, they are simultaneously reaching back to show others the way, creating a network of support and resources. Palenscar mentioned that all of her fellow panelists have one another on speed dial; each has answered urgent text messages in the wee hours of the night. Founding an edtech company, they pointed out, is much more possible with the support of like-minded people who are passionate about changing education, and who remind you that you are, truly, the best person to solve the problem.