Reporter's Notebook: ASU-GSV Summit Packs in Edtech Fans

Reporter's Notebook: ASU-GSV Summit Packs in Edtech Fans

Michael Moe on what the ASU-GSV Summit is about. / ASU-GSV Summit

Chance of getting a drink--even a glass of water--at the ASU-GSV Conference going on in Arizona? Middling. Chance of bumping into just about anyone who runs an edtech company? Wickedly high.  

Teachers pack ISTE. Entrepreneurs flock to SXSWedu. And if you're putting money into education technology, a dollar bet says you're visiting the ASU-GSV Summit in Scottsdale, AZ. 

Five years ago, Deborah Quazzo, founder of GSV Advisors and Michael Moe, chairman of GSV Capital, teamed up with Arizona State University and held their first conference for two hundred or so people intrigued by the potential of technology in education. This year, more than 2,500 jammed the lobby and halls of the Phoenician Resort.  

On the third and final day of the event, the conference organizers awarded notable companies with a "Return on Education" award--a signal that the group is making a contribution to improving education and ultimately outcomes for all students. Among this year's winners: 

  • DreamBox Learning 
  • Tynker
  • Acrobatiq
  • LightSail
  • (We'll update the list shortly.) 

And Moe and Quazzo awarded a lifetime achievement award to Dennis J. Keller, co-founder and retired chairman of DeVry, which empower its students to achieve their educational and career goals.

For people who have attended past ASU-GSV conferences, the event is a non-stop networking event. People groan about back-to-back meetings and miss most of the panels and talks. For newcomers, the panels serve as a orientation to issues in the education technology industry, ranging from "balancing personalization and privacy" to "K-12 Marketing in the Digital Age." 

This year, the conference was pushing the fire code of the Phoenician. Next year: the meeting will move to a larger venue in San Diego. 

Here's a few snippets: 

Unicorns: Investors may hope that every company they invest in may turn into a "unicorn," one worth a billion dollars. The most newly annointed unicorn? Last week, 2U, led by Chip Paucek, joined the ranks of the $1-billion (market valuation) companies. 2U went public on March 28, 2014 at $13 a share; it closed on Tuesday at $25. 

Update: Add this to the unicorn list:, which sold for $1.5 billion to LinkedIn on the day after the ASU-GSV conference. 

Worrisome stat: Not enough people are going into education. Blame it on pink slips, the stress of the job or even an improving economy, but if America is going to have enough teachers, we need to improve how the job looks from afar. Teaching training enrollment is down 53% over the past five years lin California. Other states with notable declines include New York, Texas and North Carolina. 

The difference a year makes: A year ago at the ASU-GSV Summit, Degreed CEO David Blake was just showing the enterprise version of Degreed (a way that companies can track how employees are earning additional credentials and skills. This year, he's got $7 million in venture financing in the bank, more than six times the number of people, and a boatload of customers.  

Teachers, teachers, teachers: Last year, just a few. This year, many more thanks to scholarships from a variety of organizations. They were on panels; driving conversation. A real presence.

Large numbers: Number of students who applied to Minerva for September 2015: Almost 11,000. Percent accepted: 2% 

More large numbers: Number of graduates of General Assembly will soon exceed the number of graduates of Harvard Business School. 

Inspirational (and short) talk: Jessie Woolley-Wilson on her year with breast cancer. 

Inspirational (longer) talk: Rapper & Oscar winner, Common, and his mom, Dr. Mahalia Hines, who is a member of the Chicago School board. Common: "Education is the work of the true superheroes." 

Transformation of a very large company: Watch this: McGraw Hill is becoming a software company. Next year it will sell software instead of textbooks at half the cost. If anyone wants to buy a book, they can have it for oh, say $15. 

New job: Emily Dalton-Smith, formerly with the Gates Foundation, now at Facebook. (Other Gatesies who have moved: Scott Benson, joining Stacey Childress at NewSchools Venture Fund). 

Not-yet-new job: Jim Shelton, formerly deputy secretary of education, relishing his freedom, smiling a lot--and giving no hints about his next gig. 

Soon-to-be new job: Connie Yowell, long-time director of the MacArthur Foundation's education program, who is moving on. Perhaps another nonprofit is in her future? 

Spotted in the lobby: Knewton CEO Jose Ferrara sporting a "Nerd" tee-shirt. 

Spotted on the floor: Scholastic Education President Margery Mayer in awesome, neon-bright sneakers with plastic spikes on the toes. 

Heard many, many times: 

Want to hear any of the panels and keynotes? Or how about one of those 270 seven-minute pitches by entrepreneurs?  Check out the live streams here.

Editor's note: GSV Capital is an investor in EdSurge. 

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