Building EdTech Bridges: #SharkTankEDU Starter Guide

By Preeti Birla and Angelina Lopez

At iZone, we believe that a robust edtech ecosystem enables smarter technology solutions for schools and the system at large. Edtech pipelines can support local ecosystems by working to improve the exchange of information between education stakeholders (teachers, administrators, students and parents) who understand the needs of school communities and those who design and fund the development of innovative technology solutions to meet those needs.

When school communities do not have an edtech pipeline, there are often ecosystem gaps: developers build edtech products in isolation from education stakeholders without testing key assumptions. And, smaller early-stage companies, typically eager for feedback, struggle to gain access to teacher and students as the end-users in schools.

As part of our ecosystem initiative in NYC,  we’ve designed engagements to build an edtech pipeline focused on:

  1. Testing and demonstrating the value of new tech solutions in addressing real needs of students, educators, parents and schools.
  2. Building wider capacity for critically evaluating technology adoption and use in school communities.

One way we are addressing the ecosystem gap in NYC is through #SharkTankEDU—a low-barrier engagement that brings three edtech startups to demo (not pitch!) their product in front of a panel of seven educators, students, or parents. We designed #SharkTankEDU in collaboration with educators and edtech startups to open dialogue, to improve information flow, and to build empathy and mutual understanding.

The event is an opportunity for startups to receive feedback to build better products. The structure enables both groups to evaluate assumptions related to problem definition and product solution. More specifically, this means validating whether the problem the product is intending to solve is really a problem for end-users in schools and if the solution could be effective.

#SharkTankEDU is also an opportunity for educators, students and parents to learn about new and upcoming edtech products in a safe environment among a group of like-minded peers. During a typical event, the “shark” panel leads an enriching discussion during which they compare and contrast features, discuss user flows, and share ideas about effectively utilizing technology for education.

This past March we had the opportunity to launch a national #SharkTankEDU event in partnership with EdTech Action, LEAP Innovations and the Silicon Valley Education Foundation at SXSWedu, eliciting participation from four edtech startups and fourteen teachers from across the country. Since our first #SharkTankEDU in July 2013, we’ve facilitated monthly #SharkTankEDU events and have learned a lot along the way. Through a process of iteration, we have built key community partnerships, improved outreach communication, and expanded the scope of the events.

To encourage others to run their own #SharkTankEDU events, we have developed a starter guide for districts and organizations that support tech innovation to use as a model for hosting their own #SharkTankEDU. We hope that this starter guide will inspire others to carry out this important work in their local communities. Check out the starter guide below!

Preeti Birla is the Director of Community Partnerships at iZone. Preeti designed and ran the first #SharkTankEDU in July 2013 and has since facilitated regular #SharkTankEDU events with over 90 sharks and 40+ edtech startups. Angelina Lopez is the Knowledge Management Director at iZone.


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