See you later, incubator: Pearson invests in Edtech startups

Educational publishing behemoth Pearson is putting its dollar into the Edtech startup sector in order to help propel the company further into the 21st century and away from its long-established yet out-dated business models. This move follows hot on the heels of Kaplan linking up with TechStars to offer an edtech accelerator program in New York City.

Pearson Catalyst is a new incubator program aimed squarely at EdTech startups that are nearly product-ready and potential candidates to contribute to Pearson brands for pilot programs. Diana Stepner, head of future technologies at Pearson, says that that the world is the startup’s oyster in terms of what they can cover — as long as they fall into the general category of “Edtech”.

“We have analytics, K-12, higher education, infrastructure, and more. So we are open to any idea.”

Pearson has already invested in a number of startups, such as Inkling, as well as projects incubated in-house by Pearson employees. Unlike the Kaplan program, which will invest $20,000 into each company admitted to its accelerator, Catalyst doesn’t guarantee any financial funding — although this could be something that would be considered at a later stage, Stepner said.

According to Stepner, Pearson is launching Catalyst to get more out of “the startup way of doing things more rapidly, amid a constant change.” Stepner points out that its work with in-house Pearson projects as well as other pilots with startups have both proven successful. ”We’ve done prototypes in the business and from that perspective have seen how much can be done in a short period of time.

Participants who are accepted into the Catalyst program are guaranteed mentors from within Pearson — albeit executives whose job is not specifically working with startups but Stepner is convinced will want to get involved anyway. They will also receive a £10,000 stipend for travel and related costs — essential because, in fact, Catalyst companies will not be based in a single location, under one roof: rather, they can be located anywhere, and so will need some funds to travel to Pearson for mentoring and other guidance. Part of that will also go towards getting them to Pearson HQ in London for a demo day in November 2013.

“We are starting to see more edtech incubators for sure,” said Stepner. “They are going global and that’s an avenue for all of us.” She also notes that this also opens more opportunities for Pearson in a number of markets where it is hoping to build more connections. “A member from our team organizaed an edtech meetup in Beijing recently,” she said. “It was oversold. You will see more of that as the months go on.”

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