Guest post by James Burbank, editor in chief at BizzMarkBlog
Everyone loves a good story about someone who was an underachiever at school and later became a fantastic success and innovator. Besides most of those stories being only partially true (at best), in reality, things are much different. Great education is often found to be the foundation for many an innovator's efforts and the majority of governments around the world are looking to improve the entrepreneurial education they provide for the students.
The connection between startups and education flows in the other direction too - with many startups around the world trying to find ways to improve education and change the status quo that has pervaded education despite the world changing at an ever more rapid rate.
Today, we will be looking at both these facets of the startups-education relationship - at how education is driving innovation (and trying to do more) and at how edtech startups are changing education as we speak.
How Education Drives Entrepreneurship
If you were to read anything written by the world's greatest startup founders and success stories on the role education had in their journey, they will most likely talk disparagingly about their elementary and higher education.
One of the reasons for this is that it makes their stories more romantic (succeeding without having the right infrastructure), but it also does paint a picture where educational organizations around the world are very much lagging when it comes to introducing entrepreneurship to students, especially those in elementary education.
Most often than not, entrepreneurship and the basics of business are not taught at the majority of elementary and high schools. For the most part, schools are still stuck teaching theory and preparing children for careers and the job markets that existed 40 or 50 years ago and that have nothing to do with the current state of things, let alone a reality that will exist when these children leave school.
The good news is that things are moving in the right direction. In Australia, the Foundation for Young Australians is regularly reminding everyone about the sorry state of entrepreneurial education in elementary education, like in this call for a national strategy. In October 2015, the Office of the Chief Scientist came forward with a publication called Boosting High-Impact Entrepreneurship in Australia which spoke mostly about the role universities need to play, being very straightforward about what has to change.
In the United States, a county famed for its entrepreneurial spirit, the situation in education is much the same, with steps finally being made to encourage entrepreneurship education. Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) is an organization which helps high school students from low-income families receive entrepreneurial education, for example. Things are moving forward in general in American schools.
In the European Union, there are EU-wide funds being made available for schools across the board that are willing to promote entrepreneurial education as part of special programs or regular curriculum. Like most things that are EU-related, these come with cumbersome bureaucracy, but if they want to, schools can really get invaluable help in funds and consultations.
How Startups are Changing Education
When we approach this relationship from the other point of view, we also see almost countless startups developing products, services and other solutions for various educational needs. These startups are looking to make money this way (and there is nothing wrong with that), but, for the most part, they are also truly and genuinely interested in improving the education ecosystem around the world.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about these edtech startups is how varied they are.
For example, Udemy, one of the largest edtech companies in the world, does not even provide academic programs. Instead, the idea behind the startup was to allow experts to come up with courses on their own and to help their students learn things that will help them in future professional lives and lives in general. Udemy has grown into a full-fledged company a long time ago, even though it was turned down on more than one occasion by investors.
Udacity has also been a paradigm-shifter. This startup has taken the formula of Massive Open Online Courses and applied it to teachers from Silicon Valley's biggest companies such as Facebook or AT&T. This platform has been successful mostly due to the fact that its "graduates" find it extremely easy to get employment at Valley's biggest players.
Analytikus (a BizSpark featured startup, by the way) is a Mexico-based startup which uses big data analytics to identify higher education students who are at an increased risk of burnout and dropping out, enabling the university employees to prevent such negative outcomes through counseling and other actions.
When we are talking Australian edtech startups, we have to mention Literatu (another BizSpark startup) which helps teachers reinvent the way they assess their students and plan their future decisions on various students. Thinkswap is another interesting Australian startup which allows students to sell and purchase notes from various classes from both college and high schools.
Startups and education will always be together in it, so to say. Hopefully the education will provide more infrastructure for future startup founders while it is all but certain that various startups around the world will continue to change education for the better.