Between their many universities, research centers and publishing companies, New York and Boston are already considered leaders in education, but two new startup accelerators want to make their cities as prominent in education technology.
On Friday, Boston-based LearnLaunchX made its debut, announcing that it would kick off its first session in June. And, next week, Socratic Labs, an accelerator program in New York, will officially launch with its inaugural class of startups. Along the lines of other incubators, the two programs each give accepted startups a small amount of capital ($15,000 to $25,000 at Socratic Labs and $18,000 at LearnLaunchX) in exchange for some equity, as well as mentorship, guidance, space and other benefits.
In the past few years, accelerator programs have become more ubiquitous across the country, as have those in specific verticals. General accelerator programs like TechStars and Y Combinator, which backed startups Codecademy and Clever, are open to ed tech startups. But over the last few years, ed tech-specific incubators, including Silicon Valley-based Imagine K12 and 4.0 Schools in New Orleans (which has a slightly different model), have emerged to support education entrepreneurs exclusively.
While those programs focus on k-12 education, both LearnLaunchX and Socratic Labs say they are focused on learners of all kinds and both argue that their local networks of educators, school districts, institutions and corporations will give their startups an edge.
“We expect to see quite a lot of involvement from industry in helping set up beta tests for our cohort,” said Jean Hammond, a LearnLaunchX co-founder and Boston angel investor. “We have lots and lots of publishers that need to acquire to survive and we have amazing college and university resources, as well as a general entrepreneurship community.”
But New York is also a particularly interesting place for education right now. Not only is it home to top publishers, media companies and a strong startup community, it has the country’s largest k-12 district and a dedicated subset of schools focused on experimenting with new technologies, through the iZone project.
“We have this awesome convergence of factors,” said Heather Gilchrist, a founding partner of Socratic Labs who previously worked at ed tech company Grockit,. “There’s a different chemistry in the city.”
Both programs plan to draw from their local communities, as well as startups from elsewhere. But now that ed tech entrepreneurs have more options than ever, it will be interesting to see how the different classes shake out. ImagineK12, with its Palo Alto location and Silicon Valley veteran founders, could attract more consumer web-inspired companies, while the East Coast accelerators could appeal to those who want to sync up more closely with school districts and institutions. But obviously, aside from their geography, the programs differ in terms of the backgrounds of their founders, the networks of people they provide access to and their structure and curriculum. As ed tech founders assess those options, they’ll just need to weigh those factors against their priorities and goals.