Entrepreneurship Meets Education

Technology has transformed many things.  Most things. I remember one of my amazing professors at the Harvard Ed School, the venerable Chris Dede, asking us to imagine walking into a number of different spaces.  Picture a movie theater.  A bank.  An airport.  A living room.  Can you tell whether you are in the past or present?  Probably.  Now, picture walking into a typical classroom.  If it weren’t for the clothes and hairstyles, in many cases you wouldn’t be able to tell if you were in the 21st century.  While technology has certainly effected education, it hasn’t transformed it.  Well, a new Silicon Valley incubator is hoping to change that.

Imagine K12 helps startups in the education space “get it right and get it funded,” encouraging and enabling technological innovation in education. Based on the Y Combinator model of funding,they invest a small amount of money in a large number of startup companies twice a year. The entrepreneurs move to California for three months, during which they work intensively with the Imagine team and their network of experts who help turn their ideas into viable products and companies. Each cycle culminates in a Demo Day, where the startups present to an audience of investors.

Why do I think Imagine could really help startups succeed in an area that is notoriously difficult?  First of all, it was founded by a team of three successful entrepreneurs who are passionate about education and seasoned entrepreneurs.  Tim Brady was the first employee at Yahoo and VP of Product.  Alan Louie comes from Google, and held early roles at numerous successful startups including Netscape and Shutterfly.  Geoff Ralston was founder of 411.com (which became Yahoo Mail) and later CEO of Lala.  All three believe that our future depends on preparing our children for success in the 21st century, and are committed to doing everything they can to help make that happen.

Second, education is often the last to benefit from innovation because it is so hard to sell to. Imagine K12 is creating an ecosystem that will give new companies in the space every opportunity to succeed. Imagine is currently forging relationships with schools and platform providers to allow startups access to customer testing in real-life environments as well as ready-made distribution vehicles.

And finally, as founder Alan Louie has said, the time is right:  “We believe there is a perfect storm of factors making it the right time to launch our effort.  The technology is ready, the infrastructure has been built, there now exists a whole generation of teachers who have grown up with this technology, and the financial downturn has everyone looking to technology as a means to do more with less.”

So, if you want to start an educational startup, Imagine K12 is an amazing opportunity that will help you do well by doing good. And although schools are certainly a focus for the incubator, as long as your idea is educational it would apply as they are definitely open to direct-to-student solutions. I spoke with Alan about what kind of teams they hope will apply for the next round, and they’ve made it pretty easy: “We’d love to see entrepreneurs who can implement some of solutions listed at http://www.imaginek12.com/looking.html.”

Entrepreneurs who wish to apply may complete the application which is available on the Imagine K12 website. All applications must be complete and submitted by October 30, 2011.  Good luck!

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