Two years ago, Burlingame resident Elizabeth “Betsy” Corcoran was a veteran technology reporter for Forbes Media and occasional volunteer mom in ’s computer lab. She was puzzled that all the great technology she learned about during her day job in the private sector wasn’t reaching public schools, and she knew there must be a way to bridge the gap.
“I made the irrational decision to quit my job, take a year off and figure out how to connect this boom in technology innovation in the private sector with schools,” said Corcoran.
At a Hacking Education dinner in San Francisco in the summer of 2010, hosted by tech entrepreneur Jon Bischke, Corcoran had the good fortune to learn about former Teach for America teacher Matt Bowman and Nick Punt, Vice President of Products at Inigral, an education technology company developing private social networks for students in post-secondary institutions. Punt brought in his longtime collaborator and engineer Agustin Vilaseca. The foursome got together and saw that there was a need to share information more broadly about the ed tech movement.
“We saw this landscape of emerging ed tech and no place to find unbiased descriptions of all these new products,” said Corcoran. “We were all used to using Consumer Reports and Yelp, but nothing like this existed for ed tech.”
The foursome decided to create an e-newsletter and website that would be a hub for ed tech, bringing together the creators of the products with the educators who would use them. Soon after in February 2011, Burlingame-based EdSurge was born.
“We sent out an initial e-newsletter to 50 friends and relatives just to put out the news and see what would click,” said Corcoran. “We discovered that a lot of people were indeed really interested.”
A year-and-a-half later the “somewhat gossipy but practical” weekly newsletter, which has now published its 74th edition, has a readership in the “double digit thousands,” said Corcoran, and has seen fast, consistent growth.
“Our rule of thumb is to be respectful of readers’ time and keep it succinct,” said Corcoran.
Each edition highlights new products, ed tech events and job openings in a quick-to-read conversational style with lots of links where readers can get more details. Followers include entrepreneurs, established companies and their executives in the industry and educators.
The for-profit company has received support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Colligan Family Foundation, Lucere Education Network and Startup Weekend Education. The company earns revenues from job postings in its newsletter, and down the road Corcoran sees opportunities for revenue growth through ed tech-related events.
In February 2012 EdSurge launched a second e-newsletter called EdSurge Instruct, which is primarily geared to educators. In the newsletter teachers share information about ed tech products and tools they have used.
In March 2012, EdSurge launched the Beta of their website, which Corcoran likens to the “Consumer Reports of Ed Tech.” The website so far contains 20 well-researched and fact-checked product reports, which tell how each product is used. For example, it explains whether it’s meant to be used as part of the core curriculum or as a supplement, for classroom or individual student use, how students are assessed, what the technical specifications are, what teacher training and support is offered and what the cost is. Each product report also lists which schools and districts currently use the product. The site lists 150 products and plans to build out complete reports on these in the months to come.
“Before we fully build out the site, we wanted to start reaching out to educators to find what’s useful and what people want,” said Corcoran. EdSurge also plans to add user reviews for these products in the near future.
In addition to the newsletter and website, EdSurge took its mission face-to-face in May when the company sponsored the Do It Yourself (DIY) Learning Pavilion at the Maker Faire at the San Mateo County Expo Center. (See my ). This 6,000-square-foot space showcased two dozen ed tech companies and their products. Throughout the Maker Faire, and at a special Education Day prior to the Faire, teachers and students had the chance to interact with ed tech entrepreneurs and learn more about their products.
Corcoran’s goal for the near future is continuing to build EdSurge into a sustainable company.
“It’s all about bringing together the ed tech user community and the product developers, and getting them to talk to each other,” she said.