I returned last week from a little time in Cuba and Mexico and have been diving back into the good work at Runway. On my way back, I stopped by SXSWedu for the launch of our edtech accelerator program. (You can learn more at michelsonrunway.com.) We’re focusing on challenges in higher ed and alternative education space, and I’m pleased with how the program is shaping up.
One of the more interesting conversation I had in Austin was with our mentor, George Straschnov from Bisk Ventures. We spoke about the fact that most stakeholders in the higher ed space already know what the challenges and opportunities are. We have been aware of these challenges and opportunities for several years now. However, one of the biggest roadblocks continues to be the lack of buy-in on the implementation side. Just like any industry, there are those who are energized by change and there are those who see anything new as a threat to be squashed. We live in a bubble in early stage technology where everyone is excited about new products and solutions. But not everyone feels this way, and it behooves us to respect those who enjoy doing things the old way.
On a practical level, I think startups who are looking to work with higher ed institutions need to be aware of this. Instead of rushing into partnerships and sales calls, we need to first identify which educators and administrators will be interested in committing to change and who have the authority to make meaningful decisions on the purchase and implementation side. Only then do we begin to set ourselves up for a positive outcome. One without the other is dangerous.
We have found the need for this as well. Part of what we’re doing is connecting startups we invest in to champions in the higher ed space who will support startups in their classrooms. This coalition has taken us a while to put together because it can’t be window dressing - there needs to be a genuine support and willingness to take risks on the way to finding a better path.
I heard Max Ventilla of AltSchool speak at SXSWedu. His solution was to create an entirely new school system that was devoted to new methods of learning. I think there are a lot of benefits to tackling the problem this way, but I’m not ready to give up on the thousands of educational institutions across this country just yet.
I’m excited to be working with innovative mentors within the higher ed sector, such as George Straschnov. I think there’s a lot of good work that we can accomplish, and I’m excited to join along for the journey.