Education / Incubators

Penn’s edtech incubator EDSi graduates first class of 3 startups

The incubator budgeted $600,000 to invest in EDSi's inaugural three startups: Apprennet, Raise Labs and scrible, EDSi CEO Brien Walton said. This number includes the $10,000 that each company received at the beginning of the program, as well as program services.

Health+ team members make their final pitch to judges. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

The Education Design Studio, Inc., an edtech incubator run in collaboration with the Penn Graduate School of Education, graduated its first class last month and marked the occasion with a traditional demo day, with startups pitching to investor and potential partners. The three startups met once a month in different cities like London, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco to meet potential investors, customers and partners.

Though the training and workshop portion of the program is over, each startup will get up to 18 more months of support, financial and otherwise, said EDSi CEO Brien Walton

EDSi is part of Barbara “Bobbi” Kurshan‘s vision to make the Philadelphia region a center for edtech. Kurshan, an edtech startup veteran, joined Penn GSE as its executive director of academic innovation in the fall of 2012. One year later, she helped launch EDSi, an incubator with a $2.1 million fund behind it, with investors like Richard Binswanger, a former executive who now sits on the board of the education funding nonprofit Philadelphia School Partnership, McGraw-Hill and Ron Packard, founder of online school provider K12 Inc. Every EDSi company was a finalist in the annual Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition.

The incubator budgeted $600,000 to invest in EDSi’s inaugural three startups: Apprennet, Raise Labs and scrible, Walton said. This number includes the $10,000 that each company received at the beginning of the program, as well as program services. Walton said he could not provide more details on how much each startup has received or will receive.

There is no set equity agreement for EDSi startups, like, say, the way that accelerator DreamIt Ventures will take six percent ownership for participation in its program. Instead, Walton said, each startup works with EDSi to figure out what kind of agreement works best, whether its equity, debt, a mix of both or even a licensing agreement.

Walton would not disclose details of each agreement or provide a starting point or baseline for how much equity EDSi might take but said that no founders took a licensing agreement. He also said that generally, the startups made equity or convertible note agreements or stock purchase agreements.

Two companies from the original cohort — Mountain View, Calif.-based enterprise integration company Apidapter and Philadelphia-based digital literacy company Autism Expressed –withdrew from the program because their “work with their companies did not provide the time for the program,” Kurshan said.

Autism Expressed CEO Michele McKeone said she declined the opportunity because she wanted her company “to proves itself before taking on partners.” While Apidapter VP of Business Development Judd Rattner said it had to do with the incubator’s focus: “The fit wasn’t there for a company focused heavily on technology infrastructure rather than students and learning outcomes.”

Meanwhile, the three EDSi companies, only one of which is based in Philly (Apprennet), say they are currently growing their consumer bases in Philly and around the country.

Online research tool scrible is currently in talks with Penn GSE to pilot their tool throughout their school. The company, based in San Mateo, Calif., also plans to partner with educators at Kensington High School, where educators are aiming to roll out a Chromebook program next year.

San Francisco-based Raise Labs said that it’s micro-scholarship tool is being used all over the country, including at a school in Philly.

“We are focused on growing our footprint here,” said Preston Silverman, CEO of Raise Labs.

Touring the world with EDSi had tangible value, said Apprennet cofounder Emily Foote. She met the VP of Innovation, Partnerships & Developer Relations of book publisher and education company Pearson in London and eventually turned that connection into a partnership with Pearson.

Although the first cohort only met in Philly twice during the six-month program, the next batch of ventures will work out of Oxford Mills, a coworking space in Kensington, once every month, said Kurshan. The second EDSi class will launch in the fall.

Companies: Instructure / ApprenNet / Autism Expressed

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