Getting Gender Equity in EdTech Venture Capital

10/10/2017 04:42 pm ET Updated Oct 13, 2017

That the arena of venture and investment capital is dominated by men has been reported and reported.

In education technology – edtech – accelerators, the highly competitive, highly important organizations that make early investments in promising education companies, that leadership and investment imbalance also exists.

As of 2015, there were more than a dozen such accelerators nationally boosting an estimated 150 companies a year to prominence and future profitability. Edtech accelerators are, like their cousins in other investing markets, and nearly without exception, run by male VC investors and male-led companies. And many of the companies selected for those accelerators have also been founded or run by men. This has happened despite that many, perhaps even most, education entrepreneurs are women. As a result, even in one of the few innovator markets in which there are plenty of women-led companies, many of the companies accepted into one of these programs were not.

even in one of the few innovator markets in which there are plenty of women-led companies, many of the companies accepted into one of these programs were not.

That’s a big deal because, for entrepreneurs, having your startup chosen to join an accelerator is important. Thousands more apply for the coveted, hands on support and investment than are selected. In most cases, the review process is daunting and acceptance can serve as a seal of approval that serious people are putting serious money into your ideas.

But access to these important programs may be finally shifting in favor of balance.

Last week, NYU Steinhardt’s edtech accelerator powered by StartEd announced a three-month immersive program that centers around New York City as a global edtech hub attracting and developing an army of edtech entrepreneurs to solve the world’s largest education problems. Those startups selected for the program are eligible for up to $170,000 in investment, funded by Rethink Education. They are:

  • Cognitive ToyBox, Research-backed games to assess and accelerate kindergarten readiness
  • Compliance World, The world's largest expertise on-demand platform for compliance professionals
  • Core Labs, A learner-first and Google Apps integrated software platform to start or improve mentoring at any organization.
  • Invibed, Makes successful money management a reality for young professionals
  • KiraKira3D, Teaching kids about engineering through 3D modeling and 3D printing design
  • Localized, Enabling universities in emerging markets to leapfrog outdated career and alumni service models so students can find role models who share language and cultural context
  • MedAux, A HIPAA-compliant patient education and messaging system among physicians, patients, and nurses
  • MoxieReader, A personalized reading growth plan that motivates young readers, leveraging modern fitness tracking analytics and social motivation techniques
  • Quartolio, An AI-powered platform that accelerates research by connecting the dots across scholarly data and documents
  • SecondAccent, Empowers English learners in “tuning” their accents for better understanding, greater confidence, and a higher degree of trust in their communications
  • Student Opportunity Center, A platform for universities to connect students to real-world experiences
  • Wonda VR, The all-in-one platform to create and publish next-gen learning and marketing experiences

What’s significant about this list is that, according to their announcement, half of those companies are founded by or run by women.

Yet the makeup of StartEd’s 2017 cohort isn’t an outlier. Another accelerator, Y Combinator based in California, has prominently moved “Female Founder Stories” to their website. It’s a good signal that VC leaders and accelerators are starting to get it.

But what StartEd has done is more than a signal – it’s action by design. And needed. Those companies, investors and accelerators taking the lead deserve credit because there’s more than symbolism in receiving backing from an accelerator.

what StartEd has done is more than a signal – it’s action by design.

For example, in addition to funding, by being selected to participate in StartEd’s accelerator, the cohort will take center stage to pitch their business ideas during NY Edtech Week, an annual global education festival that takes place at NYU from December 18 -20 and draws more than 1,500 education leaders, investors and media from around the world.

That’s the kind of exposure and direct investment that until recently, as in very recently, was all but reserved for male founders.

But with continued recognition of the funding and access gaps in the VC marketplace, and continued support from forward-looking and inclusive accelerators, those women-led companies can prosper. Once a few of those companies make it big and return rich rewards for their early backers, eyes and opportunities will open for other companies and in other sectors – perhaps even in the larger tech sector overall, which remains in dire need of equal opportunity to access capital and the fair shake at success.

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