Penn supports education start-up incubator

Education Design Studio, Inc. gives start-ups mentorship and a $10,000 investment

· October 2, 2013, 8:01 pm   ·  Updated October 2, 2013, 9:18 pm

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Penn has helped to create the first startup incubator in the world solely focused on education.

Education Design Studio, Inc. is a $2.1 million hybrid of a seed fund and an incubator which supports selected education-centered startups. It originated from Penn’s Graduate School of Education’s Department of Academic Innovation.

EDSi supports its selected startups through an initial $10,000 investment and a six-month mentorship program. After companies finish the mentorship stage, EDSi will still work with them for an additional 12-18 months. The fund also provides a space for the startups it selects near campus, and matches entrepreneurs with investors, industry experts, and GSE faculty advisors.

EDSi is unique because “most traditional incubators are 10-12 weeks and you work 24/7 and you have a demo day and that’s sort of the end of the relationship,” GSE Executive Director of Academic Innovation Barbara Kurshan said.

A collaborative venture that started on Sept. 23 between the Penn Graduate School of Education and outside investors, EDSi has its roots in the Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition. The competition, started in 2010, invites competitors from all over the world to pitch their business ideas about education.

The winners from this year’s Milken-Penn Business competition were invited to be a part of EDSi. “We wanted to help the companies that were winners to grow,” Kurshan said.

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Brien Walton, CEO of EDSi, agrees. “There was no real guidance as to how to help these entrepreneurs take it to the next level,” he said.

Penn GSE created EDSi as a support system for new educational startups to address this issue. By linking the winning entrepreneurial proposals of the Milken-Penn Business competition with financial, technical and academic support, EDSi is seeking to build “an ecosystem where the academic community can help the business community attain their goals,” Walton said.

Andy Porter, the dean of GSE, is enthusiastic about EDSi’s positive impact on Penn. “We see this as another arrow in our quiver for better connecting research to practice and education.”

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The entrepreneurs also benefit from EDSi’s academic connections. Michele McKeone, founder of Autism Expressed, one of the five startups in EDSi’s inaugural group, finds the support of GSE faculty helpful when developing her business.

Although she could not discuss the equity stake EDSi receives in the startups it incubates due to ongoing negotiations, she found EDSi’s location in Philadelphia exciting for its “really fantastic community” and it’s “let’s just get something started” atmosphere, similar to Silicon Valley.

Walton sees EDSi as a social impact company. For him, the primary long term goal is not necessarily profit. Instead, “the goal is that [the entrepreneurs] will create a social impact company around education that goes beyond just the community but can help people around the world.”

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