Baltimore, Boston Foster Education Technology Startups

Ed Tech

Boston and Baltimore are seeking to carve out a niche for themselves as homes for education-related technology startups.

It’s a reasonable move: Ed tech has got the attention of investors. In 2013 alone, VCs put more than $1 billion into technology companies working in education, training and test-preparation, according to Education Week. “That money is flowing into supporting the development of products and services in areas such as digital content, assessment, management systems, and professional development,” the newspaper said.

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In Boston, one of the effort’s leaders is LearnLaunch, which offers classes, conferences and networking events focused on educational technology startups. Last year, the organization founded LearnLaunchX, an accelerator program to offer workspace, mentoring and funding opportunities to fledgling companies. It also stages “demo days” where participants can pitch potential investors. The program itself provides seed funding of $18,000 in return for a 6 percent stake in the company.

Baltimore’s campaign is led by the Greater Baltimore EdTech Advisory Task Force, which was created last year and fosters conversations between organizations in education, technology and business. Its EdTechMD program offers networking, development tools and mentoring to help startups trying to break into the space. Currently, it’s raising a $3 million fund to invest in new ed tech companies.

The approaches undertaken in both cities are heavy in tools commonly offered to startups: networking opportunities, mentoring, coaching and perhaps some seed money. What’s unique is their focus on education technology and their attempts to leverage their regions’ existing technology and educational communities into an ecosystem that can support focused new companies.

The efforts seem to be having an impact. Boston, for example, is home to a large number of colleges and universities, as well as the textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which has technical learning tools of its own. Now another educational publisher, Cengage Learning, has moved up from New York in order to be close to other businesses in the space, Ed Week said. “We believe that Boston is one of the key centers for future growth of education technology,” said CEO Michael Hansen.

Tom Vander Ark, a partner in the education venture firm Learn Capital, told MDBiz News that Baltimore is home to a number of established education and ed tech companies, as well as investors active in the space. (Learn Capital is located in San Mateo, Calif.) Though he doesn’t see the city competing with the likes of New York and Northern California, he does think it can be more of a player in ed tech than centers like Seattle, Austin and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

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