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New Accelerator Will Spur Growth in Iowa's EdTech Sector

The following article was originally published by Clay & Milk on October 21, 2019.

Last month, NewBoCo announced a new accelerator program in Iowa City, establishing the Midwest’s first-ever edtech-specific accelerator program.

The new accelerator program—called Iowa EdTech Accelerator—is modeled after NewBoCo’s current Iowa Startup Accelerator (ISA), but will focus only on educational technology.

“Not every sector in Iowa has enough density to have its own programming, dedicated resources, but we think edtech does,” said Engelmann, director of the accelerator. “So part of the idea was to take the general framework of ISA, which we’re really happy with, and apply it through a filter of edtech companies and resources.”

Each cohort will bring together five high-potential entrepreneurs, giving them seed capital, mentoring, coaching, prototyping support, and early corporate customer feedback.

The goal of the accelerator is to grow 25 or more new, high-potential edtech startups in Eastern Iowa over the next five years as part of a larger effort to make Eastern Iowa globally-known for innovation in the education technology sector.

“Iowa has a legacy and history of building companies in the edtech sector for decades,” said Engelmann. “The timing is right for building things there and it’s also a pretty natural extension for the resources that NewBoCo provides 20 miles away. So it’s sort of the perfect opportunity.”

The program will be operated by NewBoCo with mentors and assistance from edtech partners. The accelerator program will run in Iowa City at MERGE Coworking, ACT’s campus and other locations. The program will begin accepting applications this fall and will run in early 2020 in Iowa City.

Partnering with local edtech organizations

The Edtech Accelerator will collaborate with regional business resources and education industry leaders in the state including ACT, Higher Learning Technologies, Iowa City Area Development Group, the University of Iowa, and the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

“It’s pretty much everyone taking the assets they already have and saying ‘what if we kind of pull the value of all these pieces together,'” said Engelmann. “And then, if there are gaps, we can figure out how best to fill them.”

ACT, one of the accelerator’s partner organizations, has good reasons to collaborate with the Iowa EdTech Accelerator.

Since changing leadership in 2015, the Iowa City-based company has made 11 deals in which it has invested in, acquired or formed strategic partnerships with educational companies. These investments are part of the company’s plan to transform from primarily an assessment-based company to a more multifaceted education solutions company. 

New analysis of Iowa’s edtech sector

Earlier this month, the Iowa Economic Development Authority conducted the first-ever evaluation of Iowa’s EdTech sector. The report found the state’s assets in the EdTech space include a diverse mix of larger mature companies, such as ACT and Higher Learning Technologies as well as several recent startups.

The report looked at the clustering of 28 edtech companies like ACT and McGraw-Hill that employed approximately 3,126 people in the corridor during 2018. The vast majority of the sector is involved in educational assessment and educational content generation. A small part is involved in content visualization and virtual reality systems.

The report concluded that edtech presents a strategic industry cluster for Iowa to pursue for future growth.

“Iowa has the potential to add upward of 1,000 jobs in the EdTech sector over the next five years—but, realizing this opportunity will require a strategic focus on connecting ecosystem organizations and companies, enhancing the piloting and demonstration environment for EdTech in the state, improving the entrepreneurial ecosystem and creating and encouraging workforce development activities,” read the report.

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