Cracking K-12 Edtech: Lessons From TenMarks, Panorama, & Playrific

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brands and organizations to create apps that have an educational component. It has landed partnerships with Toys “R” Us, which pre-loads Playrific apps on its child-focused tablet, and more recently, SeaWorld Kids, which has tapped the startup to develop nature-themed apps.

“We intersperse education into everything we do,” said Beth Marcus, Playrific’s co-founder and CEO, in an interview. “But it’s all about fun for kids. We’re not doing Common Core expertise [materials]. That’s what they do in school.”

Playrific got started in 2010, and its app-publishing platform brings together elements from videos, games, books, and photos. The company’s experience suggests that reaching kids with apps is a lot easier if you have kid-focused brands on board to help you with distribution. “Now we have a viable business model, and it does not rely on sales of $1.99 things to be profitable,” Marcus said. “If you think you’re going to make money through app stores, you’re kidding yourself.”

Beth Marcus, CEO of PlayrificBut Marcus (pictured) acknowledges there’s room for other approaches. “The marketplace as a whole for technology delivered through devices to kids is a very nascent area,” she says. “Everyone is figuring out their business model.”

The lessons from all the companies above could also apply to other local startups, such as Socrative (which makes classroom activity apps), CueThink (collaborative math instruction), Testive (test prep for students), TeachPoint (teacher evaluations), and Balefire Labs (educational app reviews). And don’t forget the more traditional education publishers, like Pearson, Cengage Learning, and Curriculum Associates, which are looking for ways to make their content more mobile and interactive.

Playrific and other app companies fit with broader themes that LearnLaunch co-founder Eileen Rudden calls the rise of “informal schooling” and the “digital wave washing over education.” In short, kids are learning a lot of things outside the classroom, as they always have.

Dave Balter, a tech investor who also serves as CEO of Boston-based Smarterer, points out that therein lies a big opportunity to rethink education. “A lot of things school teaches us become irrelevant” once people hit the workforce, he said on a conference panel. The more important skills include “relating to people, and can you learn Python?”

As an investor looking at edtech, he’s intrigued by platforms that help people get more connected—think peer-to-peer assessment, linking talent with employers, that sort of thing. It’s an old-school theme in a new-school world.

“If you turn away from the tools, there are other ways to think about it, from a people perspective first,” he said.

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