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Over the past weeks and months we’ve blogged fairly regularly about the Education startup accelerator/incubator scene. As EdTech continues to make dramatic inroads into the ELT industry, a few future-savvy ELT publishing companies have taken the initiative and positioned themselves as close to the EdTech source as possible by sponsoring or hosting their own startup incubators. The move is a canny one; why wait for an innovative startup to forge its own way into the market place only to be snapped up by a keen-eyed competitor when you can catch them when they are just starting out and thus guide their efforts so they are in line with your publishing vision. There is great value in engaging with and encouraging EdTech innovators and entrepreneurs, and it’s with that belief that ELTjam approached Accelerate Cambridge, the in-house early venture accelerator of Cambridge Judge Business School, about collaborating on Cambridge’s first ever EdTech Startup Weekend on the 23rd-25th May.

Startup Weekends are globally coordinated events that bring together entrepreneurs, developers and startup enthusiasts with investors and industry leaders to discover and develop innovative business ideas and to start shaping them into fledgling startups. The network has delivered Startup Weekends in nearly 500 cities around the world and has been the breeding ground for thousands of startups. The format is pretty simple: participants bring along their ideas, and the weekend kicks off with a series of 60-second pitches on the Friday night. The best ideas are chosen and teams form around them. The teams then spend the rest of the weekend shaping the ideas into business plans and pitches, with the support of a team of highly-experienced coaches drawn from the worlds of education, technology and business.

At the end of the weekend, the teams pitch their concepts to a panel of expert judges for more feedback and a chance to take their business on to the next level. Among the panel of judges for the EdTech Startup Weekend is Cambridge University Press CEO Peter Phillips and Jack Lang, founder of the hugely successful Raspberry Pi Foundation – the organisation behind the phenomenon that is the Raspberry Pi computer.

We at ELTjam are immensely excited about the whole thing, especially as it’s an ideal opportunity to get involved in discovering and getting to know the next wave of EdTech innovators straight out of the gate. If it sounds like something you’re interested in (and you can get yourself to Cambridge) then come and join in, otherwise we’re looking forward to sharing our experience of the event here on the blog.

 

8 Comments

  1. Good luck!

    A lot of my students attended the local version and some friends mentored. It seemed a fantastic idea and some students came up with ideas but I don’t know any who continued with them. The lack the ‘oomph’ or maybe knowledge to get things going. The techie ones learn all about I.T. and now Social Media, Marketing and Management but prefer jobs managing networks.

    Government funding is out there for new startups and this even is a great start. I definitely think these combinations are better as they are more specific and bring people together. The same idea was behind co-working spaces and these ‘technology hibs’ I hear about. Upto now, I only know techies who work from home or in cafes or unis. I have a mate who runs a tech company and he can be found in a back room of the uni he works at or his students can.

    Another friend is behind the funding for new startups and thanks to EU money, he wants people with good ideas but there aren’t many. The available money is quite interesting but I think people need coaching and supporting. Saying yes to an idea, throwing money at them and saying “good luck” won’t help most.

  2. Tim, this looks interesting. I may just sacrifice a weekend of reality TV and beer to attend. Well done on organising this!

    I simply can’t, however, let the comment on ‘future-savvy’ publishers slip, though. Apologies for sounding a negative note, but a) I’m not sure if it is possible to be ‘future-savvy’, given that the future is unknown, and b) millions of pounds have been lost by many publishers over the years on failed EdTech ventures, which looked very ‘savvy’ at the time. I think we have to wait and see, at the very least, before we decide if the investments are sharp or not. Throwing money at start ups can often be the price publishers pay for their techno-anxiety.

    I agree that engaging and networking with tech start ups is a good idea, though. The ‘commercially-savvy’ stance would be to endorse their ideas so that they can better secure the backing of venture capitalists, and then let the investors take the risks. I personally wouldn’t lose sleep about the start up being snapped up by a competitor, because I’ve yet to see a digital concept that couldn’t be replicated easily. Indeed, new technology-based materials don’t offer a sustainable advantage for any publisher – they may offer a headstart and a first-to-market advantage. But, then again … let’s not underestimate the potential benefits of being second or third to market: you can observe, copy and improve on what has gone before, and the chances are the development costs will have fallen.

    This doesn’t detract, however, from what should be a very interesting weekend. look forward to seeing you there.

    1. Hi Brendan,

      Great to hear from you and thanks for the comment. I take your point about the risks and track records involved in publishers backing startups. The ‘future-savvy’ description was intended more to describe a category of publisher; those that are aware of the fact that the industry is undergoing some changes and that relying on it remaining unchanged is a perhaps a flawed strategy. Future-savvy, maybe, but future proof? … remains to be seen.

      Looking forward to seeing you at the weekend. Use the code ELTJAM to get a discount on your ticket 🙂

      1. Thanks, Tim. Buy tickets? I thought you guys were sponsoring me?

        Regarding the category of publishers who are aware that things are changing, well … I actually don’t know any publisher that isn’t acutely tuned in to this. In the twelve years that I’ve been involved in e-publishing, I have seen dramatic changes across the board. If you were to compare the percentage spend on digital now with ten years ago, the number of products and the size of the digital teams, then the contrast is staggering. Absolutely mind-blowing.

        It’s not that some publishers are in denial, it’s just there are different ways of negotiating change. The really big circle that needs squaring is publishing multi-format in tandem with print in a way that is efficient and cost-effective. At the moment the resourcing demands and costs of doing this are the biggest ‘disrupters’ in ELT publishing.

        My hunch is that it’ll be the refining of mundane processes, the incremental improvement to platforms and the availability of multi-purpose authoring tools that will resolve this problem. The heroes of this story aren’t likely to be trendy start up dudes with goatee beards and designer hoodies, but rather a larger collection of non-descript toilers working close to the source of the issues.

    2. I think it is great that you are doing this however I agree with Brendan. These organizations seemed to be more fearful of the future than savvy about the future. The more I hear about these publishers the more it sounds like they got caught with their pants down rather than holding a crystal ball.

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