According to the panel’s investors, there are four characteristics of a good investment that ed-tech companies should consider–but these considerations can also apply to institutions:
1. It includes mass-market technology components: “A good question to ask is, ‘What innovations in other sectors are applied to this technology?’” noted Davis. “For example, does it include social media collaborative options, like Twitter and Facebook? It’s not about reinventing the wheel, but more applying other wheels to your wagon.” For institutions, take the example of an LMS: Does the LMS include tools and functionalities that allow for online collaboration within course units?
2. It should be independently tested: “Any good technology should be able to provide independent studies on its value and effectiveness,” emphasized Davis. “These outcomes should also be measured by the university; and the outcomes that should matter most are those for engagement and grades.” However, Pianko quickly noted that at the institution level it’s incredibly hard to test the effectiveness of a solution in even five years. The LMS example: Make sure the platform has been independently tested, and preferably piloted within multiple institutions, before purchasing.
3. It should have great branding and distribution: “Most of education’s best products never win,” said Pianko,” because it’s notoriously hard to get K-12, and in some respects higher ed, to take a risk on a new product due to resource and accountability pressures. However, if a company has partnered with another brand name, or is literally going from district-to-district and institution-to-institution, it has a shot. The solution should have a great distribution plan.” The LMS example: Has the company partnered with, or acquired, any other known education-oriented company?
4. It isn’t too innovative: Though this characteristic may seem ill-advised, investors agreed that if a solution is too outside-the-box, it often won’t succeed. “This isn’t because it’s a bad product,” explained Pianko, “it’s because if you stick your neck too high, you’re going to get shot at—by accreditors, by researchers, by skeptics. In the same vein, it’s also good to have a plan B in your business model when considering regulation.” The LMS example: It’s critical that the platform, at its core, is about providing the functionality of a good LMS, and doesn’t instead focus on functionalities that faculty and admin won’t actually use frequently in their day-to-day tasks.