EdTech Accelerator Series: Pearson Catalyst

In his ‘Accelerating Education Companies’ guest post back in December 2013, Stephen Parkes gave us an excellent overview of the Education Startup Accelerator scene and the importance/attention that such initiatives are amassing. In this series of posts we are going to take a look again at some of the key players with a view of seeing what these programmes have been creating in terms of innovative EdTech propositions. 


We blogged about the launch of Pearson’s EdTech incubator back in April 2013 and we’re now able to see how the Class of 2013 were put to task by their mentors. The incubator’s objective is simple but wonderfully powerful; it matches startups with established Pearson brands to create new, pilot-able products and services with 3 months. 5 startups were selected from over 200 applicants and were partnered with Pearson sponsors for a period of 3 months. The startups were given specific areas/challenges/opportunities within education to respond to, all very much centred around Pearson-generated content.

The chosen 5 were:

The Silicon-Valley startup was given the challenge of creating a web-based platform that would allow MOOC providers to make the most of Pearson content. Over the course of their participation in the incubator the company developed a content-as-a-service plug-in that enables MOOC providers to easily integrate content into their own learning platform. The content can be made available on a freemium basis but the plug-in also delivers a content portal that can be used to deliver both premium and open content from any content provider.

The Seattle-based company have created a rather exciting online reader that allows educators to ‘reach’ students within a digital text. Teachers can upload their own texts, use online articles or choose from texts available in the public domain, They are then able to add questions or activities by simply highlighting the text and inserting their own content. Having done this, they can tag the activities according to Common Core standards. Teachers can then track their learner’s progress and respond to notes that they make within the text.

Actively Learn ‘s challenge during the incubator was to adapt reading content into an innovative, collaborative digital reading product for the university and K12 segments, the latter being an entirely new market area for the startup. The project saw them work with higher education professors as well as university students.

ClassOwl is a time-management tool designed to help students work more efficiently whilst dealing with the myriad pressures of university study. Students are able to intuitively juggle their commitments and priorities in order to make the most of their time. The ClassOwl team – a team of Standford students – identified a need to streamline and simplify the way course info, scheduling and communications were handled between course administrators, teachers and students. ClassOwl provides a centralised single planner that unifies coursework and other key information. Beyond that ultra-handy application, ClassOwl also enables teachers gain an insight into how their learners are working with a view of informing further scheduling decisions.

The startup’s brief from Pearson was to leverage their platform to deliver new, Pearson-flavoured student services. As a result, ClassOwl is now fully compatible with Pearson’s own OpenClass platform assisting easy adoptions of the learning environment by educational institutions already clued in to the ClassOwl approach.


Spongelab’s introductory paragraph reads like an EdTech bingo card. The startup works on the creating immersive, gamified learning tools through the combination and integration of game-based learning tech with data-driven adaptive learning solutions. Their offerings are being used across education, professional training and the healthcare industry. Spongelab base their creations around their own data-driven platform called STITCH. This cloud-based platform is designed to enable them to supply ‘learning-as-a-service’ (as opposed to ‘software-as-a-service’ model of software delivery).

Pearson’s interest in the startup’s potential was understandably piqued and the company was given the task of creating a virtual learning environment to allow teachers and learners in the medical field to apply the theories they are encountering in a realistic simulation.

VLinks Media has created a platform that can optimise learning  content from both the learning and course admin perspective. The platform enables any given course content to be tailored to best meet the needs, learning preferences and objectives of the students and institution. Course administrators are able to gamify, socialify and data-track their pre-existing content whilst also delivering a personalised learning experience for each individual user. All of this, and it’s available on mobile, too.

Understandably, the startup was given the task of coming up with a test preparation product that could be delivered via mobile and that would be scalable for more subject areas.

So that’s the first ‘new wave’ of Pearson EdTech products. It’s an elegantly effective approach to furthering the company’s commitment to advancing and shaping the data-driven, personalised learning reality that is taking up residence in the edu-sphere. Seek out and take complete ownership of solutions that your company would not be able to/would never have thought to develop itself.

As Diana Stepner – Head of Future Tech at Pearson – admits, “We realised within Pearson that we weren’t going to come up with all the brilliant ideas ourselves.” That may be the case, but the to what extent has the contact between the startup and Big Publisher pushed these brilliant ideas on to heights that neither party would have conceived otherwise?

Pearson is opening the application process for the new Catalyst intake in March 2014.

Read our interview with Project Manager, Debbie Akinpelu. How does the incubator programme fit with Pearson’s change in direction? See Pearson Betting the house on digital by Laurie.






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