5 Mistakes That New Edtech Companies Make

edtech company mistakes
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New edtech companies consistently make certain mistakes, according to Elliot Levine, a technologist with 30 years of experience in education, first as an administrator and then in the private sector, where he has worked for companies such as HP and Qualcomm.

For edtech companies just starting out, he offers tips and advice for avoiding these common mistakes.

1. Is the ‘why’ compelling enough? 

Levine starts with one question: Why? He says the why of an edtech company’s offerings have to be compelling. A startup should ask itself why a prospective partner will need its product and how that product can offer unique solutions. 

“A lot of times, when I'm talking with budding entrepreneurs, they don't know if they've really addressed the ‘why’ up front,” Levine says. Doing so sets successful companies from the rest of the pack.

2. Is the solution itself needed? 

The solutions that edtech companies offer have to work for their partners and need to address all of a potential client’s needs. Too many companies take a one-size-fits-all approach, which is a major miscalculation, according to Levine. 

“At the end of the day, if the problem you solve is of less importance to educators, the likelihood it's going to ever be used or taken seriously, really remains a doubt,” he says. 

3. Not accounting for issues with adoption 

One major issue that companies overlook when offering solutions for educational problems is not accounting for teachers’ time. Levine relates a story about a company whose learning management system took 80 hours of training for teachers, which is not an ideal scenario, especially when teachers do not have contracts that cover this additional work. 

“If you're going to be involved in so many different aspects of edtech, you have to consider yourself a professional development company, among your other things,” Levine says. “Because user adoption is what will make or break you.”

When offering a solution, companies have to keep in mind that educators often default to the status quo because it’s easier to keep doing what has been done before rather than try to implement something new.  

An edtech company also needs to account for teachers’ concerns about their time and their performance. “If we don't address that early on, we will never get educators out of their comfort zones,” Levine says.

4. Underestimating the importance of relationships 

A new company should forge partnerships that are the right fits. Levine says a lot of new companies are just happy to obtain MOUs (memorandums of understanding) or to partner with a big name. 

“Executing on that partnership is what's important,” he says, suggesting that a company can strengthen a relationship by uncovering needs and being proactive. “It's really important when you're talking with a client, you understand their objectives, and how you fit into that equation.”

Establishing a solid foundation for partnerships can begin by asking another simple question of a prospective client: What’s your desired outcome? “That simple question alone, we're often too afraid to ask it,” Levine says. “But we can tell immediately if there's synergy. Or if we're just completely missing the boat.”

Uncovering this kind of information goes a long way toward a successful partnership by helping to determine exactly what needs to be met. “You have to always put yourself in the other person's shoes,” says Levine. “Because potentially, there needs to be a creative way to introduce the solution.” 

Levine adds that it’s critical for a new edtech company to know its partner’s business and not just its own.

5. Not enough support for sales 

The success of a new company ultimately comes down to sales. The numbers have to be right for an organization to thrive. “If you don't have great salespeople, you're going to continue to just siphon money away from your cause,” says Levine. Identify the top sellers and do whatever is necessary to retain them. 

Ultimately, no matter what a new edtech company provides, innovation is key. “Real innovation will require technologies and approaches that are going to fundamentally transform learning as we know it,” Levine says. 

Levine is scheduled to be a presenter at Tech & Learning's upcoming EdExec Summit, a new event that brings together senior executives from companies serving the K-12 industry for a three-day networking conference dedicated to the business of education.

Ian Peterkin

Ian Peterkin is a writer and educator. He has taught at universities in America, China, and Dubai. He has an MFA in creative and professional writing from Western Connecticut State University. His work has been featured in Rio Grande Review, Helix, Wagner Lit, Flare: The Flagler Review, The Pointed Circle, Tenth Street Miscellany, Soliloquies, Noctua Review, The Fourth River, and elsewhere.