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Innovators convene to discuss ways to improve education


December 02, 2010

More than 30 entrepreneurs, investors, educators and researchers gathered at ASU SkySong recently for the inaugural meeting of the Education Innovation Network’s advisory board.

The day’s frequently animated discussion focused on ways reformers in the private and public sectors could better apply business knowledge and enterprise development expertise to the education market to radically improve outcomes for children worldwide.   

Arizona State University launched the Education Innovation Network last spring to connect needs – such as funding, research or product development – with expertise to more quickly bring new learning solutions to scale.  The Network links companies working to improve education, ASU’s intellectual assets, educational K-20 systems in Greater Phoenix, and investors of all types – philanthropic, angel, venture capital and large-scale acquirers.  

“I am here because I want to be part of a group that is pushing the boundaries of how students learn,” said advisory board member Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of DreamBox Learning, Inc., an adaptive learning company based in Bellevue, WA.  DreamBox’s adaptive platform eliminates the wall between instruction and assessment to deliver an engaging, game-like, early math learning experience.  

“Educational technology has advanced to the point where it can now impact learning at the point of instruction.  What we are doing can improve achievement for all students – regardless of their zip codes.”

Board members discussed the steps that would need to be taken to develop an education innovation cluster based in the Phoenix area.  Julia Rosen, ASU associate vice president for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, described the advantages the region had to offer for the development of an education innovation cluster, including the $100 million in education research awards ASU has received in the past year, more than any other U.S. university.  

“We know what makes economic clusters a success,” said Rosen. “Clusters require a local foundation of mature industry players, sector-focused university research, government support and favorable business conditions.  Greater Phoenix offers these advantages in spades.”

An education innovation hub at SkySong would provide direct access to ASU’s entrepreneurial education leadership team and services such as venture capital connections for promising new technologies, research linkages, workforce development, and entrepreneurial training resources from multiple sources, both public and private.

The Education Innovation Network’s advisory board is co-chaired by ASU president Michael Crow and Michael Moe of NeXt Advisors, which provides merger and advisory and private placement services for companies in the education sector.

“The board assembled to advise the Education Innovation Network is packed with some of the world’s smartest and most vocal advocates for innovation and education reform driven by the private sector,” Moe said.  “We expect both the Network and the board members to benefit from their shared experience and strengthening connections.”

Education is a $3.8 trillion industry globally, representing 6.3 percent of global domestic product, but only 0.1 percent of global market capitalization.  This gap suggests the industry is significantly undercapitalized and poised for major growth.

Since the first Education Innovation Summit in April 2010, high-profile venture capital firms have completed 19 deals with a total value of more than $225 million in education innovation companies.  Investments were made by more than 50 VC firms and angel investors, notably $75 million for Chegg (online textbook rentals) by Ace Limited, Kleiner Perkins and Insight, and $46 million for Kno (tablet textbooks) by Andreesen-Horowitz, Silicon Valley Bank and Triple Point Capital.

The next meeting of the advisory board will be at the Education Innovation Summit, scheduled for April 5-7, 2011.