Behind the Scenes of NewSchools Ignite: Science Learning Challenge

October 20, 2015

We were overwhelmed by the response we received in late July when we launched NewSchools Ignite and its first market gap focus, the Science Learning Challenge.  We had hundreds of media groups publish our press release and write articles about our new strategy, including TechCrunch, Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, and an op-ed we published in Forbes.  By the time our application closed at the end of the summer, 119 companies had heard about and applied to the Science Learning Challenge!

After a rigorous selection process, today we are thrilled to announce our very first NewSchools Ignite cohort: 15 innovative edtech companies that span the K-12 spectrum and focus on a variety of science domains – life, earth/space,physical, and engineering/technology. Our winners include entrepreneurs who are creating ways for students to run science experiments in space, interact with physics in everyday play, learn hands-on microbiology, and many more innovative ways to engage students in science learning.  Each of our entrepreneurs will receive between $50-150k in non-dilutive capital, business advisory support, and access to a team of world-class cognitive scientists focused on applying the latest in learning science to product design via formative feedback cycles.

How did we select our market gap area and subsequent companies, you might wonder?

First, we determined the market gap via published research and user interviews.  For our Science Learning Challenge, we began with a nationwide Gates Foundation report, Teachers Know Best, that surveyed teachers around the nation about the edtech products they use and where they see gaps. The most prominent gap was in k-12 science. Next, we did secondary research spanning the gamut from the job market for science-related degrees to the dismal student achievement in science, which is most alarming for students from underserved communities.

After collecting this data, we interviewed science teachers, science edtech entrepreneurs, and edtech thought leaders to understand their user experiences.  We probed to better understand their use cases, pain points, and wish lists from both the supply and demand perspectives.  At this point, we felt confident launching our first market gap challenge at NewSchools Ignite by addressing the dearth of edtech tools for K-12 science and engineering.

We opened our application for the Science Learning Challenge and allowed for about a month for applications to come in.  During this time, we actively sought out edtech companies and networks to share the news about NewSchools Ignite, especially with networks focused on women and minority founders.  We strongly believe that innovative ideas are found outside of our walls and wanted to get the word out to new entrepreneurs.  While the NewSchools network is prominent, we want to continually expand our reach to more innovative entrepreneurs.

After applications came in, we went through a rigorous process that included multiple initial reviews of all applicants by the New Schools Ignite team.  We narrowed down the pool of 119 applicants to a subset of semi-finalists.  Next, as an internal team we interviewed these semi-finalists to better understand their products and business plans.  During the same period, we had an all-star external review team of educators, edtech experts, and business leaders who also reviewed our semi-finalists for further input.  Finally, we reached out directly to educators who have experienced the semi-finalists’ products.  As we made the final selections to arrive at 15 winners, we brought in all of the data and perspectives from our review process.

As we begin to think about our next market gap, we’d love to hear your input.  Do you have an idea for an edtech market gap we should focus on in the future? Submit your feedback here.

Stay tuned to hear more about what we’re learning alongside our entrepreneurs!