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Competition Awards Ed-Tech Startups Thousands of Dollars for Growth

By guest blogger Michelle R. Davis

Six education technology startup companies won prizes totaling $145,000 Wednesday at a Philadelphia entrepreneurship competition sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education.

The finalists and semi-finalists in the Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition also were invited to participate in the university's Education Design Studio, Inc., a startup incubator which provides some seed funding and which was launched last year.

Philadelphia-based company Osmosis won the two top prizes, worth $25,000 each, for its learning app for the medical community. Several K-12 companies also won prizes, including Philadelphia-based ProfessorWord, which garnered $20,000 for the creation of a vocabulary improvement tool that can tailor its offerings to a student's reading level and interests. Branching Minds, based in New York City, won $25,000 for its web-based tool that identifies learning challenges and provides strategies and supports; and eduCanon, based in Galesville, Md., won $15,000 for its interactive video teaching platform.The full list of winners is here.

Ivan Chang, the co-founder of ProfessorWord, said the competition provides more than support and financial rewards. It links entrepreneurs going through similar experiences. "We're in the early innings of whatever this game is," he said. "It's not going to be easy, but the game is far from over."

The conference brings together funders, startups, and more experienced entrepreneurs and experts from the University of Pennsylvania's education school and its Networking Entrepreneurs for Social Transformation or NEST program. The competition—now in its fifth year—changes annually said, said Bobbi Kurshan, the executive director of academic innovation at Penn's Graduate School of Education. This year, she said, she saw trends toward startups creating business models for dealing with Open Educational Resources; for aggregating educational content; and for new visions regarding data and learning analytics.

The contest emphasizes research-based ideas, she said, and most of the winners and finalists have research as a strong component.

Several teachers at the conference said they were intrigued by the ideas they saw being promoted by the startups, however the realities of the technology in their schools could prevent them from accessing the types of tools and products the startups had created.

Tammy Kelly, a fourth grade teacher at Radnor Elementary School in Radnor, Pa., said the technology infrastructure there often falters when she tries to use digital tools creatively. She was intrigued, for example, by eduCanon's video tool, but said when she tries to use video in her classroom, technology infrastructure problems mean "sometimes the iPads just don't work."

Want more ed-tech news? Follow @EWmdavis on Twitter.



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