Lessons from a bootstrapped teacherpreneur launching a crowdfunding campaign.
GUEST COLUMN | by Brendan Finch
Within the crucible of the classroom, educators learn what truly works. There is no grey area: inequity and the achievement gap stare, unblinkingly, at us everyday. Though many of the tools we use in our classrooms have been designed in a lab or by a team of talented businessmen, there’s a new era of small businesses budding.
The teacherpreneur represents the next stage in this evolution — teachers solving problems through scalable edtech start-ups. We’ve lived through the systemic issues facing education and we’re able to use strategies that we know will work to solve them. As crowdfunding becomes a commonplace tool for teachers through platforms like DonorsChoose and GoFundMe, can crowdfunding provide funding for these emerging businesses?
I’d like to challenge educators who have innovative ideas to try their hand at building a business.
We’re launching an experimental answer: a Kickstarter campaign for Adaptive History. BirdBrain History will be our second content area of adaptive and differentiated reading. We’re an early start-up that’s served over 50,000 students and teachers in the last year. In no way does this mean it’ll be easy. To date, the only edtech tool that’s run a successful large-scale crowdfunding campaign was Mathalicious in 2012! Our goal is to create the most accessible curriculum tool on the market for students to read and schools to pay for.
The current model for edtech funding has its roots in Accelerator and Venture Capital funding. This model provides growing ideas with the capital they need to scale their businesses, but also creates businesses that are driven to be acquired to provide a return for its investors. The amount of capital available for businesses who accept these funds is substantial, but I’m unconvinced that this is the driving force we want powering the next generation of edtech.
Private business certainly isn’t the silver bullet for alleviating educational inequity, but we can use it to test out our ideas. If an idea fails, the business fails; and schools have little tolerance for tools that don’t work. My hope is that we’re able to incubate smaller solutions without massive capital, in just a few classrooms or schools. If teacher networks can be properly leveraged and great ideas can spread quickly enough, then this may be an option for the coming generation of teacherpreneurs.
I’d like to challenge educators who have innovative ideas to try their hand at building a business. Rather than subjecting yourself to a new “program” that may or may not work, you’ll have concrete affirmation or denial through the market itself. Every educator I’ve ever spoken with has a unique perspective on the classroom. You’re already doing invaluable and groundbreaking things in your classroom and the rest of the world deserves to share in your success.
If you don’t know where to start, there is a growing network of edtech entrepreneurs and do-gooders that would love to connect with you. Teach For America connects their alumni through the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative, and you’re able to connect with many other education enthusiasts through local Meetups, Accelerator events and StartupWeekendEDU.
My all-time favorite edtech events are Edcamps. Dubbed an “unconference,” attendees set the schedule for the event upon arrival the morning of the event itself. Presenters are attendees, not vendors. You’ll meet rockstar educators and if there was ever a place to put your finger on the pulse of transformative tools and needs being addressed by teachers, this would be the first place to look.
For now, head over to www.birdbrainhistory.com and hopefully we can inspire you to take the leap yourself. If not, we’d appreciate any support you can offer.
Brendan Finch is the founder of BirdBrain Education, veteran teacher, Teach For America alumnus, and would love for you to continue the conversation on Twitter @BirdBrainFinch or to contact him directly at brendan (at) birdbrainscience.com. Follow BirdBrain Science @BirdBrainEdu and BirdBrain History @BirdBrainHstry