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SkySong summit advances innovation in education

April 26, 2010

Attendees of the inaugural SkySong Education Innovation Summit at SkySong left a symbolic apple on the event’s desk with rave reviews for its content, quality and collaborative environment.

The summit, hosted April 20 and 21 at SkySong, the Arizona State University Innovation Center, brought together more than 370 education experts, investors and entrepreneurs for two days of discussion, networking and company presentations.

“Attending this summit was like having a front row seat at the ‘education tomorrow’ show,” said Lisa Graham Keegan, former Arizona superintendent of public instruction, who moderated one panel discussion and participated in another. “We saw awesome possibility, and the crowd felt like a perfect blend of know-how and ‘why-not?’ An event like this proves that we could be finally hatching a breakthrough.”

Panel discussions with titles such as “Control-Alt Delete: What would you do if you could start over?” and “Global World, Local Education: Why, in a global marketplace, is education still primarily local?” spurred spirited exchanges among panelists such as John Katzman, founder of The Princeton Review, Scholastic Inc. President Margery Mayer and Blackboard founder Matthew Pittinsky.

Keynote presenters included ASU President Michael Crow, President/CEO and former COO of Yahoo Daniel Rosensweig, Edison Schools founder Chris Whittle, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

“This is finally the decade when educational technology will come to fruition,” said Hastings, who also announced his purchase of educational technology company DreamBox Learning at the summit.

Whittle’s address focused on the future globalization of education, a development that his new company, Avenues – The World School, is hoping to help drive with globally oriented schools located in the world’s largest cities.

“Education is one of the West’s greatest exports,” Whittle said, noting that only two of the world’s top 100 universities are located in China. “In the world’s largest cities, there is a big gap between the seats available in the best schools and the demand for them.”

“We have a fertile environment for change in education for the first time,” Rosensweig told the assembled audience at his luncheon address. “The education revolution is going to start from within, it’s starting with students.”

Change was a common theme throughout the event, which could be expected with the assembled group of innovators dedicated to employing technology and other new strategies into education.

“This summit pulled together some of the greatest leaders in innovative education solutions to discuss the issues that matter most – how to help our system of education adapt to the changing landscape of technology, political shifts and the continued economic pressures on educational institutions,” said Daniel Pianko, founder and managing member of The Noah Fund, an investor in, and advisor to, several education businesses.

Another main element of the event was the opportunity for educational technology companies to present to potential investors. This opportunity was by invitation only and reserved only for top companies, said Michael Moe of Global Silicon Valley Partners, who helped organize the event. Presentations were judged by a panel of education experts, with 12 companies receiving Education Innovation Pioneer Awards as Best In Class presenters.

“The companies who presented at this summit were all hand-chosen as the leaders of innovation in education,” said Moe, an experienced investor in education technology companies. “The ‘Best in Class’ designation identifies the cream of the crop of companies truly employing innovation to further the cause of improving education.”

The summit was a successful first step toward creating the SkySong Education Innovation Network, which will continue to connect education companies, investors, policymakers and entrepreneurs, said Julia Rosen, ASU’s associate vice president for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“This event was an excellent initial effort in establishing this unique network that will continue to spur collaboration and innovation,” Rosen said. “This will also lead to the creation of a physical hub of top education technology and innovation companies here at SkySong. We already have several located here and will be working to attract more in the coming months.”

Despite some of the statistics and conventional wisdom regarding the overall state of education, there was a sense of optimism shared by most in attendance, according to panelist Farb Nivi, founder and CEO of online education company Grockit.

“I walked away inspired and more confident than ever that, as an industry and a company, the impact we will have on students will be bigger and more positive than we ever imagined,” Nivi said.

“The Education Innovation Summit was the greatest concentration of movers and shakers in the education industry I’ve ever encountered,” said panelist Michael Staton, co-founder and CEO of Inigral. “Everyone at the summit has been partaking in the reformulation of education in America and across the world.”