SBIR Awards 14 Grants to Edtech Developers--including EdSurge

SBIR Awards 14 Grants to Edtech Developers--including EdSurge


Oh, the sound of a "kaching," the jingle of funding moving into a startup. 

Entrepreneurs love winning investment dollars--and with reason. Funding lets entrepreneurs build the business, invest in a product and nurture a stronger team. Pick your funders carefully and you may also get a group of thoughtful, well-connected advisors. But investments can have a dark side, too: Some entrepreneurs discover that along with the dollars come tough task-masters, an insatiable demand for growth and a forced march toward an unexpected outcome. 

There are other paths.

Since 1972, the US government has offered a different kind of support through its Small Business Initiatives Research and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The effort got started by a tenacious program officer at the National Science Foundation, Roland Tibbetts, who had gone to college on the GI Bill, spent 20 years in industry and joined the NSF determined to spur research.

These days, the aggregate dollars for the program are staggering: Annually, the government puts aside $2.2 billion to support SBIR and STTR programs, distributed by 11 government agencies.

The government takes no equity in the teams it supports--but it does keep a careful watch on how its research dollars are doing. SBIR and STTR grants have resulted in 70,000 issued patents and close to 700 public companies. Private money has also followed in its wake: About $41 billion in venture investment has gone to companies that have been SBIR and STTR grantees. 

Rather than a business plan or a pitch deck, the SBIR program demands companies outline a plan for achieving a specified result.  

This week, EdSurge is enormously proud to be among the 14 organizations to receive an SBIR grant. Our work, which is led by Edsurge product manager Leonard Medlock, will focus on building out our edtech selection tool, Concierge

Concierge is one way EdSurge is making good on our goal of helping schools find and use the right technology to support all learners. (Read about Concierge here.)  

All the awardees of the program have great projects underway. 

There are two phases of the SBIR program: a $150,000 phase one and up to $900,000 phase two. Not every company participates in both rounds. Five of those grantees are on the second leg of the voyage. Their work focuses on assessment:  

  • Brainquake and Querium are developing adaptive engines to assess how students perform on standards-aligned math problems;   
  • Teachley and Apprendis are building platforms that organize student performance data and create reports to guide teachers;  
  • 3C Institute is building a website for special education teachers that will help them assess and track the social and emotional development of students diagnosed with High Functioning-Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Of the remaining nine, two other companies are also exploring assessment: Analytic Measures is working on a prototype app to measure how well grade school students read aloud. Early Learning Labs is developing a screening assessment aimed at supporting teachers of Spanish-English dual language learners.  

The other seven phase 1 SBIR grantees are developing technologies aimed at nudging schools and classroom another step into the future. They are: 

  • Immersive chemistry experiments delivered through a game that uses a virtual reality headset (Schell Games);
  • Mobile app-based learning games (Spry Fox and Fablevision)
  • "Maker" instruction that uses a 3D-printer (Parametric Studios);
  • A digital learning platform for improving middle school STEAM through citizen science (Planet 3).
  • Ways to assess oral fluency using speech recognition technology (Analytic Measures); 
  • A platform to facilitate engineering design challenge (Future Engineers); 
  • A platform to help administrators make smart choices about what technology to use in their schools (EdSurge's Concierge). 

It's a coming of age moment for EdSurge: We got our start in journalism; we continue to believe in the power of telling great stories. But any journalist worth his or her ink, however, wants sources to "show" not just "tell." We're excited to work within the SBIR framework to do just that: Show the depth and value of Concierge. 

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