ImagineK12, an incubator modeled after Y Combinator to help education startups “get it right and get funded,” held its first demo day for its first cohort of 10 companies Sept. 9 in Palo Alto, Calif., and a week later the companies presented at TechCrunch Disrupt.

The companies’ pitches were crisp and intriguing, and I was struck—and encouraged—by how many of them are attempting disruptive strategies.  Who knows how many in the cohort will be successful of course—they are all heading into notoriously choppy waters in a space that, as I’ve written about, feels a bit overheated at the moment—but by going this route, they do improve their odds.

Here is a rundown of just some of the things that struck me.

GoalBook: The company’s mission is to create a personal learning plan for every student. So where are they starting? Special education. Why? The law requires students to have individual learning plans (ILPs). Goalbook can create help a teacher and school create these way more affordably—not a bad thing in times of budget cuts when less expensive (think low-end disruption) could be critical to allowing districts to continue to fulfill their legal mandate.

Formative Learning: The mission to create the first marketplace for teacher professional development. In a one-size-fits-all industry, as I’ve written before, there are lots of areas of nonconsumption in professional development—as in every time a teacher has a particular need or question about how to handle something that comes up with their students that they have not confronted before, for example. And the opportunity Formative Learning is driving into is federally mandated, which couldn’t hurt.

TutorCloud: Aiming to disrupt the $8 billion private tutor market, TutorCloud is doing it by chasing the nonconsumption—the 80 percent or so of students that don’t take advantage of private tutoring, as I’ve written. How? Lowering the price point from, on average, $65 an hour to $25 an hour. Can they do it? Lots have tried in this notoriously fractured space; the founders’ argument is that no one has as of yet nailed the user experience. Keep your eyes on the cloud.

BrainNook: The company is pioneering the next-generation of learning games for people under 10-years old. What’s the disruptive play? It seems to be to target the after-school market and disrupt the world of homework. That’s a better strategy than trying to cram video games into schools’ current structure at least.

Eduvant: The company’s slogan is “today’s data, tomorrow’s tools” and the goal is to disrupt (broadly speaking) the data market in education filled with student information system providers and the like. The play? In a fast-growing market—7.3 percent year over year revenue growth—there are a lot of district nonconsumers because it’s just too expensive and complicated. Eduvant says it makes education data simple and affordable—and yes, the comapny won’t analyze or work with all of a district’s data, but it will make it easy to work with the 20 percent of district data that’s actually actionable and can drive 80 percent of decisions. Lower price point, simpler, and a good enough solution? Smells like disruption.


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.