Davos in Diego? What to Expect From This Year’s ASU+GSV Summit ‘Cocktail’

Davos in Diego? What to Expect From This Year’s ASU+GSV Summit ‘Cocktail’

Image Credit: GSV Advisors

The gathering once dubbed as “Davos in the Desert” will make its way next week to the sleepy shores of San Diego, Calif. For the first time, the annual ASU+GSV Summit, which draws C-level executives and the who’s who of the education industry, won’t be held in Arizona.

The new location offers an opportunity for a new nickname. (Hopefully something more creative than “Davos in Diego,” or “Business by the Beach.”) Event organizers have another rebranding task at hand: shedding the gathering’s image as an investor’s paradise.

To some, previous Summits smacked strongly of corporate interests—sometimes with “all the subtlety of a company sales rally,” noted a seasoned industry observer in 2014. Careful whispers of dollars and deals fill the lounges; careless cries of “disruption” echo from the stages. Last year, The New York Times christened the conference “The Must-Attend Event for Education Technology Investors.”

It’s a title fitting for an investment firm that has advised on more than 100 fundraising and merger and acquisition deals since 2009. But, “I’m not so sure we’re happy about [that label],” Deborah Quazzo, the founder and Managing Partner at GSV Advisors, tells EdSurge.

Only 10 percent of the estimated 2,550 attendees last year were investors, she notes. Quazzo expects that percentage to stay the same this year, even though more than 3,500 people have registered to come.

For each Summit, she says, “we want to curate a strange cocktail of people who don’t normally end up in the same room.” The year, the new ingredients will include a bigger mix of government officials, community college leaders and overseas education business leaders. Executives from 50 Chinese education companies will show. Roughly 1,000 educators—500 from K-12 districts and a similar number from postsecondary institutions—are also making their way.

New to this year’s program is a “Future of Work” track focused on adult training and workforce development issues. There are also student-led tours of several local K-12 schools. For those seeking a virtual escape, there’s a “Tomorrowland” exhibit featuring 20 companies with virtual and augmented reality tools.

Business is business, and here’s what won’t change: opportunities for entrepreneurs to woo investors. From Academix Direct to Zzish, more than 300 companies will take turns pitching to angels, bankers, venture capitalists, private equity managers and financiers of all wings and stripes. More stage time will be given to the 38 companies in the “Leaders Track”—a honor given to those whose valuation exceed $250 million (and whose CEOs, disconcertingly, happen to all be male). Even so, Quazzo is continuing her tradition of hosting a packed luncheon for several hundred female CEOs. (Roughly 30 percent of companies that will be in attendance, based on a pre-conference poll, are led or founded by a woman.)

I have never been to ASU+GSV Summit. But I do enjoy sampling strange concoctions. The eclectic mix of headline speakers, which includes Bill Gates, Frank Gehry, Condoleezza Rice and Stanley McChrystal already promises a potent punch of ideas. In addition, here are the sessions that caught my eye:

Monday (all times Pacific)

1:00 pm: Top of Mind: Why Is Education Not More Central to the American Political Discourse? with Ben Wallerstein (Whiteboard Advisors), Adrian Fenty, (former mayor of Washington D.C.), Bev Perdue (former Governor of North Carolina), Lanhee Chen (Hoover Institution)

2:00 pm: Student Agency as a Means to Eradicate America’s Addiction to Incarceration, with Hailly Korman (Bellwether Education Partners), Joe Wiseman (Monarch School), Cynthia Burton, Wendell Callahan, Sean Morrill, Stacy Spector (the latter four all from San Diego County Office of Education Juvenile Court and Community Schools)

3:00 pm: PRIMETIME Talk by Guy Kawasaki

4:00 pm: Human Talent in the Age of Robots, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Automation, with Shivon Zilis (Bloomberg Beta), Elijah Mayfield (Turnitin), Arjun Singh (Gradescope), Andrew Smith Lewis (Cerego), Maran Nelson (Clara Labs)


10:00 am: Brain Trust: Top Wall Street Equity Analysts Discuss Investor Excitement for Learning and Talent Tech Companies, with Michael Moe (GSV), Trace Urdan (Credit Suisse), Corey Greendale (First Analysis), Alex Paris (Barrington Research Associates)

11:00 am: Open Mind: Leadership Diversity in Education, with Darrell Cobb (Charter School Growth Fund), Carmita Vaughan (The Surge Institute), Allan Golston (Gates Foundation), Kaya Henderson (D.C. Public Schools)

3:00 pm: Why Amazon, Edmodo, and Microsoft, 14 States, and Over 30 Districts Decided to #GoOpen, with Joseph South (U.S. Department of Education), Rohit Agarwal (Amazon), Jim Federico (Microsoft), Sujit Nair (Edmodo), Devin Vodicka (Vista Unified School District)

4:00 pm: Rethinking the Transition from Education to Career—A Fireside Chat with author Jeff Selingo and Roadtrip Nation’s Mike Marriner


8:00 am: The Future of Education with John Fallon (Pearson), Rick Levin (Coursera), Michael Crow (ASU)

11:00 am: Mind The Gap: How Do Universities, Employers, Students and Governments Get In Sync? with Matthew Sigelman (Burning Glass), Rick Levin (Coursera), Byron Auguste (Opportunity@Work)

12:00 pm: Bill Gates keynote, followed by interview with Deborah Quazzo

2:00 pm: PRIMETIME Talk by Russlynn Ali (CEO of XQ Institute and Director of Emerson Collective)

EdSurge Sessions

My colleagues will be onstage at the following times on Monday:

Monday, 10:30 am: What Supes Need to Know About Selecting Technology, with Betsy Corcoran (CEO) and Leonard Medlock (Product Manager)

Monday, 3:00 pm: May the Best EdTech Products Win, with Allison Dulin Salisbury (EdSurge), Matt Rascoff (University of North Carolina), Bart Epstein (Jefferson Education Accelerator), Hal Friedlander (Technology for Education Consortium), Jason Palmer (Gates Foundation)

Monday, 4:00 pm: Viral Adoption in EdTech, with Betsy Corcoran (CEO), Vibhu Mittal (Edmodo), Brandon Avrutin (Rethink Education), Cory Reid (MasteryConnect), Andrew Sutherland (Quizlet), Jeff Scheur (NoRedInk)

You won’t find me on stage. I’ll be roaming the halls, ducking into sessions, scrawling notes and taking advantage of the free coffee. Catch me if you can.

Disclosure: GSV Capital is an investor in EdSurge

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