Are We Producing New Education Entrepreneurs?

Barbara Russell asserted that we are not producing new entrepreneurs in the education market at her acceptance speech last week at the AEP Awards.

I respectfully disagree with her on this. Today the entrepreneurs are not in the traditional supplemental print business that Options was in, they are all in the technology arena. Some examples:
98524_building_builings.jpgBill Kelly –

Randy Wilhelm – NetTrekker

Sandy Fivecoat – We Are Teachers

Larry Berger – Wireless Generation

Jonathan Harber – SchoolNet

Dave McCool – Muzzy Lane

Ntiedo Etuk – Tabula Digita

Jim Bower – Whyville

Mark Johnson – National Transcript Center

All of these entrepreneurs are building vibrant and interesting companies that are pushing the envelope across the education market. They share the traits she outlined in her talk. There are dozens more that I could have mentioned.

In fact – if you need solid evidence that technology is at an inflection point this is it. The old-line companies are consolidating the print business as it commoditizes while the entrepreneurs are drilling new wells of value using technology and services.

Barbara closed her talk by making much the same point. She talked about where she sees the business going and mentioned two things in particular that are going to shape our industry:
Rapid development of customized products. She sees a world of 2 week turnarounds on 4 color, bound, customized products. This is automation of the back end of the business.

Ubiquitous access due to low cost laptop programs will make technology a regular part of how we teach in the classroom.

395266_prisoners_of_rust_1.jpgAs I have outlined in other posts (Technology Substitution, Information Overload) I believe we are in for a period of wrenching change in Education Publishing. I’m bullish about the industry’s long-term future, there are lots of good ideas getting traction and plenty of entrepreneurs stepping up to make them real.

Disclosure – We Are Teachers, Whyville, and National Transcript Center have been or are currently clients.

Posted in:

2 responses to “Are We Producing New Education Entrepreneurs?”

  1. Lee.

    Nice post. And thanks identifying me as an example of an entrepreneur who is building a thriving and interesting company. Like most entrepreneurs that choose this market space, I’m honored to be serving kids and educators.

    Relative to your post, I agree with both Barbara and you on this. She’s right to promote the idea that we need more new companies in our market space. We need to keep pushing the development and innovation envelope, and combining fresh ideas with a pioneering spirit to create a new entity often does that. And I agree with you that there are excellent examples of entrepreneurship in our industry already. Many of the names you listed, along with many other individuals, are collaborating to meet the surging demand for individualized digital instruction in school classrooms.

    I’m proud to call this industry my new home after over a dozen years as a commercial insurance broker. Gasp! The leaders in the education technology and supplemental publishing industry have embraced our company, and me and have encouraged us to continue to meet customer demand for our services.

    Randy Wilhelm
    CEO – THINKronize, Inc.

    Developers of the netTrekker suite of products

  2. Bill Kelly says:

    Thanks very much for the mention. I agree with Randy that there are many more who could have been listed and who are doing excellent work.

    I think the problem with innovation in the education space is real. The world is in the midst of an incredible revolution driven by computing and the Internet. Education, in most places, has not really been touched by it. There are a lot of teachers doing very interesting things, but there are few systems that have embraced the new forms and possibilities that are enabled by the technology.

    I think there are a few specific reasons for this:
    1. There is a disconnect between the buyer and the user of goods and services. For the most part, teachers are given materials that have been purchased by someone else. We need to empower more teachers to make more decisions. The technology ought to facilitate the accountability that the districts and states feel they need.

    2. The state-wide adoption process still drives significant value and trends in the industry. Billions of dollars per year are allocated to for-profit companies serving education via this arcane process. The stakes involved make it so that a few states drive the nature of the products avaialble everywhere. And the process is protected via political processes, further distancing the end consumers (teachers and students) of products from the decision makers.

    3. There is no concensus about how technology ought to be deployed in a school setting. And there seems to be little support for the radical changes that very interesting uses of the technology might facilitate. For example, students can self-pace through any amount of material at any pace in web-enabled learning environments. What implications might this have in traditional classrooms.

    The bottom line is that the entrepreneurs you’ve listed, myself included, have had to work extraordinarily hard to build companies in the $5 million – $20 million annual revenue range. This is not big enough to support an industry fourishing in innovation. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the longer this goes on, the more exciting the breakthrough will be once disruptive forces get to a critical mass.

    I actually believe that point in time is two to three years from now. But we’ll see.

    Bill Kelly