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Articles

Where do you find the help you need to start an edtech company? Finding mentors, joining an incubator, reading voraciously on the web--or find a bootcamp. 

“We’re seeing a need for shorter programs that include more mentoring, more follow up consulting and that are rooted in research about what we know about learning,” says Barbara (“Bobbi”) Kurshan, a long-time veteran of the education technology world. “I think this reflects an evolution of the edtech entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Kurshan, a Senior Fellow and Innovation Advisor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, has spent decades building edtech enterprises—both for-profit and nonprofit ones. She knows that early stage-stage innovators need support. But she no longer believes that “incubators,” typically 3- to 6-month long programs that aim to launch edtech entrepreneurs, are the most effective way to help these self-starters. Instead, Kurshan is architecting a new type of program—one she hopes will not only help entrepreneurs spark ideas but enable them to grow robust organizations.

At the end of November, Kurshan along with her PennGSE colleagues, Michael Golden, now Executive Director of the Catalyst program and Jenny Zaph, the Director of the Master’s in Education Entrepreneurship program, will put those ideas to the test: They are hosting two “Entrepreneurship in Education” workshops in San Francisco, aimed at entrepreneurs starting companies and schools, another step on a path of delivering a more robust program of networking and startup advice. Their hope is that these programs will help pave the way toward the kind of supportive environment that education technology companies need to survive.

Kurshan and her colleagues are designing their ongoing workshops and bootcamps to be focused on specific issues: How to start an organization, what legal issues command attention, and critically, how to build a startup on a base of research. By early next year, Kurshan expects the program will be formalized and that UPenn will offer entrepreneurs a chance to earn a certificate (or even a degree), along with ongoing mentorship and networking to help entrepreneurs connect with potential funders.

Kurshan sees the new approach as more personalized to the needs of entrepreneurs: “We customize the instruction, the research and the mentoring for the needs of each company through the workshops, weekly mentoring and and GSE’s network of researchers, educators and investors,” she adds.

“Entrepreneurs say, ‘We don’t listen very well at the beginning, but eventually get our hearing back,’” Kurshan quips. Now she hopes to have the support they need ready for them, available at the time they need it.