The edtech business market has experienced impressive growth in the last few years, especially as education agencies invest in new technology. From my previous role with Idaho’s Department of Education, I understand the challenges and opportunities faced by many states as they develop or overhaul longitudinal database systems and integrate new technologies at the state, district, campus and classroom levels. From that perspective, I offer edtech entrepreneurs the following tips:

Scale from One Classroom to an Entire State

The state system incorporates both centralized procurement and decentralized usage (where teachers pick the tools to use in their classroom.) To accommodate state needs at scale, you need a product that leverages data standards with enterprise services or cloud-based platforms. But to meet teacher needs and ensure use, you must also design a product flexible enough to gain mind share one classroom at a time.

Dawn of the Micro-App

The future lies in relatively inexpensive micro-apps built on large-scale infrastructures to share data through standards-based mechanisms. Unfortunately, the centralized purchasing models widely used by districts and states don’t lend themselves to this new reality. Up and comers need to coalesce around existing, open, standardized solutions or be left out of the game as the old guard of the education software and publishing industry race to “build walled gardens” of their own assets. They take advantage of antiquated centralized procurement systems to offer multiple similar options, and yet give the illusion of providing local choice. Like Henry Ford said of the Model T: “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

The cost of integration at the state and district level is killing at least some of your sales and eating into your profit margins. State and local education agency budgets are formula driven, which means in essence it’s a finite pie and your piece is your piece. The more you spend on the back-end heavy-lifting, which is typically the most labor intensive and non-reusable part of your solution, the less of that customer’s budget you have left over for product margin. Ask yourself these important questions before you build a better mouse trap.

  • Can you partner with a company or non-profit that has already paved the way?
  • Cooperation is the new normal, so will an industry ally let you draft off their integration experience with an SEA?

The Days of the Generalist are Gone

Focusing on your core business model is key: be the best at something. And, when I say the best I mean THE best. Inevitably, we will see a convergence of multiple solutions for an educational problem on a shared platform. Your job is to ensure your own success by offering a targeted solution that helps your customers succeed.

Troy Wheeler is the vice president of strategic market development for the Ed-Fi Alliance. If you’re an edtech developer with a strong point of view on how data could be—or is—used to make a difference for kids in the classroom, the Ed-Fi team would love to hear from you. Email to share your story!


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