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Socrates Meets Edtech: 51 Questions that Teach

“Always the more beautiful answer who asks the more difficult question.”              – e.e. cummings

Earlier this week, NewSchools and Silicon Valley Education Foundation collaborated on launching a new learning innovation zone. Ten companies competed for the chance to run pilots throughout Silicon Valley school districts. They were drilled with dozens of questions from a panel of both educational leaders and business leaders.

An entrepreneur pitches her edtech company

You can read more about who won – including NewSchools portfolio companies Blendspace and Zaption – but if you want some insight into the perspectives of educators and business leaders on edtech, look to the questions first. Below I’ve compiled a list of what edtech startups should be prepared to answer if they step onto the stage and into the spotlight. 

Note: these are the real questions asked in the iHub Pitch games. The list is not comprehensive, but is a good place to start as you think through your own ideas. 

From an Educator’s Perspective (superintendents, tech directors, and principals)

Classroom Experience

  • How do you see a teacher using your product in the classroom? Help me understand how a teacher would use this.
  • Does your product track time on task?
  • Can you explain how the students collaborate? Can a teacher modify the student created content before it gets shared?
  • If I’m a student, how am I going to use this product? What is your hook to get students to use the tool?
  • Is this something a student can use at home?

Utility to teachers

  • How do you train the teachers to use the system? How long does it take for a teacher to become proficient?
  • For power users, how long does it take to write a new lesson?
  • Does it give information back to the Student Information System? Is it exportable back to a grade book? How does it integrate with other systems?
  • Can other teachers access the data to share between classes and programs?

Quality of content

  • How do you see the content aligning to the Common Core State Standards? Are the standards tagged by users or the system?
  • Are there scaffolding supports build in for English Language Learners?
  • There are a ton of edtech products being created, why would this be a good one for schools to invest in?

From a Business Perspective (CEO’s, Venture Capitalists, and Ronnie Lott)

Content and Product

  • How does the adaptivity work?
  • Do you have any concerns about privacy?
  • How do you ensure quality of content?
  • How do you deal with disparity in students with respect to social and economic background?
  • How do you substantiate the learning gains you cite?
  • How much content will you need to gain complete coverage of the curriculum, and how are you going to invest in getting that done quickly? How will you invest in going to market?
  • Does your product slow down the top students? How do you ensure this doesn’t happen?
  • Where are your content creators based and how do they get paid?

Competition and Market

  • Who do you see as your competition? 
  • How do you differentiate yourself from your main competitors?
  • What stops other companies from entering your field if your method becomes a hit?
  • How do you make money?
  • Who owns the digital rights?
  • What is your price point?

Team and vision

  • What is your painpoint right now?
  • 5 years from now, what is your company going to look like?
  • What keeps you up late at night?
  • What gets you up early in the morning?
  • What do you want to do with the data you collect?
  • Tell us a bit about who you are
  • What is the size of your team?
  • If you prioritize your goals, what would you do right now and what would you leave to the future?
  • How did you meet your cofounder?

On usage and users

  • Of the X% users you retain, what is special bout them as opposed to those who churn? How often does that X% use your product?
  • What negative things do customers say?
  • Who is the customer? Who is the decision maker?
  • What’s your plan to get your product to your customer base? Do you have revenue targets?
  • How many users were active in January?
  • You have X% retention. Why did the 100-X% leave?
  • How will you scale up your customer support as you grow?

Find out my favorite questions by pitching us your education startup at http://www.newschools.org/entrepreneurs/submit!

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