LearnLaunch Looks to Spur Ed-Tech Startups in New England

12/4/12Follow @gthuang

The education tech scene is heating up in Boston. LearnLaunch, a new nonprofit focused on learning and education tech companies, is getting off the ground, led by co-founders Jean Hammond, Marissa Lowman, and Eileen Rudden.

Its goal? To bring together a community of entrepreneurs, investors, teachers, educators, students, and buyers; and to offer classes, forums, and conferences for people interested in startups and new ideas. There are also plans for a dedicated accelerator program, but LearnLaunch itself does not provide funding for startups.

The organization has identified more than 150 ed-tech startups and entities around New England (see image below). A few that come to mind in and around education—K-12 and higher ed—are Boundless, EverTrue, TenMarks, English Central, Smarterer, peerTransfer, and Testive.

And nationally, LearnLaunch points out that 134 ed-tech companies got venture funding in 2011, the high point in the past decade. (For a good rundown on the potential winners and losers in ed-tech, see this piece by Miro Kazakoff, Testive’s co-founder and CEO.)

It sounds like an important mission for LearnLaunch is to increase the number of successful ed-tech companies in New England—by both supporting existing startups and helping to get new ones off the ground.

The nonprofit’s founders seem well-qualified to do that. Lowman, who’s the executive director, previously founded EdTechup and also has startup experience doing sales and marketing for AisleBuyer (which was bought by Intuit). Hammond is a prominent angel investor and the co-founder of AXON Networks and Quarry Technologies. And Rudden, the founder of Sankaty Growth Partners, is a senior tech exec who also led college and career prep for Chicago Public Schools.

LearnLaunch is currently holding classes at Nutter McClennen & Fish in the Seaport District, and monthly meet-ups are at Space with a Soul, a community workspace in Fort Point. Lowman and Rudden say that creating a central space for ed-tech startups would be valuable, so watch for that.

The organization’s first conference, called “Across Boundaries: Innovation & the Future of Education,” will take place February 1-2 at the MIT Tang Center in Cambridge, MA.

Perhaps LearnLaunch’s impact on the local community is best summed up by serial entrepreneur Beth Marcus, the founder and CEO of Playrific, a Boston-area startup that aggregates digital content for young kids. (Playrific has just raised $1.7 million led by Golden Seeds.)

“I’m part of a group of CEOs who sell to families and kids, and we draw continually on resources that are now part of LearnLaunch. Among other things, LearnLaunch is an idea exchange and forum that aggregates the real world expertise and feedback of peers, investors, mentors and potential users to tune strategies and manage misdirection, especially in the critical early stages,” Marcus writes. “Until now, bits & pieces have been accessible, but LearnLaunch really brings learning and ed tech talent pools and critical players together in one place, and helps accelerate and de-risk the entrepreneur’s early growth stages.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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