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Ed startups: The good, bad, and ugly

Posted on: November 17, 2014

I was a judge at a recent three-day educational startup event in Singapore. This was my first experience with startups of this nature.

Here are some of my observations.

The most wonderful thing about the event was how it brought passionate people with interesting ideas out of the educational woodwork. There is much potential good in a ground-up effort for people to spot gaps and suggest solutions to address problems they take ownership of.

A possibly bad thing is people who participate for the wrong reasons, e.g., self-promotion, sole goal of financial gain, perpetuating irrelevant ideas.

An ugly thing is people who promise one thing only to switch course and deliver something else.

The bad and ugly aspects are a result of “gut feels” and projections. I could see these things happening from a judge’s the point of view.

As the only representative from education on the judging panel, I was not terribly surprised, but still alarmed, by how much importance teams and the other judges placed on the business side of plans.

Such things are important for startups, but these are just the brick and mortar of a building. These buildings need to be built on a foundation of long term social improvement in the areas of schooling and education.

If the business aspects are the alphabet and words, then the guiding philosophy and underpinning pedagogy are the rules and themes of the overall story.

When I listened to the stories each group told, I did not look for the good, the bad, and the ugly. They announced themselves quite loudly.

The inaugural educational startup event was a wonderful first step forward. I hope that the organizers and participants reflect on the stories that played out so that they can plan for the next chapter.

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3 Responses to "Ed startups: The good, bad, and ugly"

This sounds like a fantastic event. Would you be able to share some of the inspiring startups you saw?


Two groups stood out for me.

One was a group that designed a platform and process to take out the middleman in the tuition industry here. The middle folks make money but do more harm than good. The group hoped to connect kids and parents directly with good tutors. The tutors had to prove their worth by sharing resources online. Not only would these be part of tutors’ portfolios, they’d be open resources for self-help groups.

Another group sought to level up functional but messy coding of fledgling programmers to the level expected by their employers. They planned on doing this through a combination of complex algorithms and human intervention.

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Thanks so much for sharing. Owning a software company, I can certainly see the value in the second one – most graduates are useless for the first couple of years, which is a massive drain for us. Love the first one also and am sure that it would also be very valuable in Korea, Japan and here in Taiwan etc.


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