FIELD REPORT: The SIIA EdTech Business Conference


FIELD REPORT: The SIIA EdTech Business Conference

What a teacher hopes to find at an edtech investing conference.

By Marisa Busch     Nov 28, 2012

FIELD REPORT: The SIIA EdTech Business Conference

Over the past eight years I've walked into a hundred classrooms. I've even marched boldly into my share of meetups and conferences like SXSW EDU and the NMC Conference. But I will confess that venturing into New York City's McGraw-Hill Conference Center this week, did give me a few flashbacks to "Stranger in a Strange Land ," which is odd considering I’m an educator and it was a conference about education.

This year was the largest SIIA Ed Tech Business Forum ever, bringing together 340 innovators, entrepreneurs, thinkers, leaders and investors in the education technology space. I was there to learn about the latest innovations—including, I hope, some that will help the schools that I work with. Plenty of entrepreneurs, on the other hand, came looking for funding and plenty of investors came scouting out potential partnerships.

Monday kicked off with a speed-networking extravaganza, one of the most popular functions at the conference. This was our first glance into the scope of the attendee list. While the background beat of the "Macarena" was a bit distracting and three minutes never seemed long enough, it provided the perfect experience for company representatives to refine their elevator pitches and dish out those Moo Cards.

According to veteran SIIA member Frank Catalano, the number of startups at the conference has noticeably increased. This is a step in the right direction and fits in nicely with the conference theme of seismic change.

Monday culminated with the Innovation Incubator: 13 innovators competing in three separate locations, aiming to share their vision, their accomplishments and their potential. I hoped to feel a direct connection to many of them–particularly those focused on K-12 since that is where I spend my days. ( Here's a list and descriptions of them all.) I wanted their presentations to bring back personal moments from my classrooms and make my internal teacher voice shout, “This tool would have solved my problem that day!”

Some of them did, but others seemed more like a great speaker than a strong idea or effective implementation. The ability and responsibility to distinguish between these elements is crucial when participating in a competition like the SIIA Innovation Incubator.

The event was complex to follow, especially when multiple companies presented simultaneously on similar products in separate locations. Perhaps next year's event should take on more of a “Battle of the Bands” vibe, and encourage companies building solutions for a similar problem to talk to each other...or at the very least, to listen.

Of the four presentations in room 207, Clever was the one that racked up the most votes for "Most Innovative" and "Most Likely To Succeed."

Mathalicious founder Karim Kai Ani's passion for bringing highly engaging materials to a subject that too many teachers struggle with resonated too. "You have to have a good product before you wrap technology around it," Ani said. Chatter about Mathalicious and Ani’s captivating presentation was abundant during the reception on Monday evening and on Tuesday. Catalano dubbed Mathalicious the winner of “The Bridesmaid Award.” (It officially took runner up in both categories.)

What I—and perhaps the judges-found particular compelling about both Clever COO Dan Carroll and Mathalicious' Ani is that both have spent quite a bit of time in the classroom. And seeing teachers become greater stakeholders in the education technology arena is exactly the kind of truly seismic change I'm hoping to witness.

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