DataDay Design is interviewing CEOs and Founders of start-ups and early-stage companies to talk about entrepreneurship and learn how these businesses are navigating the COVID-19 global health crisis. This interview is with Erik Skantze, co-founder and Chief Product Officer of EdConnective, a Richmond, Virginia-based EdTech startup platform designed for the new era of education by providing virtual coaching to teachers.
You can read more of our interviews with America’s brightest entrepreneurs here.
What is EdConnective?
EdConnective is a platform that provides instructional coaching for teachers and administrators at the school and district levels to improve their delivery as educators. Teachers fill out a comprehensive survey and an algorithm matches them with coaches with compatible experience. They then record and upload footage of their classroom while doing live instruction, which they share with their coach.
The footage is carefully analyzed before the coach and teacher meet for an intensive training session designed to improve delivery. These coaching sessions occur 1-2 times a week, typically for 8 weeks.
The platform has engendered tremendous improvement among its teachers; one need only look at the raving testimonials given by its users.
One teacher at a private preparatory school in Maryland noted how much she grew each week. A different high school educator was impressed that “practically every student shows a brighter attitude and more engaged behavior in class” after starting on EdConnective.
Overall, EdConnective has found that these one-on-one coaching sessions lead to much greater knowledge transfer than traditional teaching conferences.
How Did EdConnective Get Started?
EdConnective is the academic brainchild of Erik’s co-founder, Will Morris. The two met at the University of Pennsylvania while both were in graduate school.
Erik was pursuing his MBA after recently selling an edtech startup in the D.C. area. Meanwhile, Will, a master’s student in education policy, was working on EdConnective as a part of his thesis. Their backgrounds suited each other well, and a partnership was born.
The pair agreed that the most important thing in the classroom, at the end of the day, regardless of technology, is the teacher. If they could help educators improve and feel more supported, they’d have the opportunity to positively impact a broad range of students.
While there are already many extremely intelligent people in the teaching profession, according to Erik, they get a large dose of pedagogy and not much practical support in terms of the tools required for classroom management and student engagement. The lack of such resources contributes to the high rates of burnout and attrition among educators. That’s ultimately the problem EdConnective set out to solve. Improve support for teachers in the classroom to help create more fulfilling careers while also improving educational outcomes.
As An EdTech Startup, How Has COVID-19 Affected EdConnective’s Growth?
Pre-COVID, teachers had a particular set of needs for in-person classrooms that has shifted with the transition to remote learning.
Now, instructors need to figure out how to use new technology, how to engage students virtually, and how to balance synchronous and asynchronous learning.
There’s an entirely new set of concerns for teachers, principals, and administrators, but overall the root problem is the same; educators are undersupported.
Accordingly, though EdConnective has faced COVID-related challenges, such as in-flux budgets wreaking havoc on the clarity of the sales cycle, the company has remained relatively unscathed. In fact, there is such a tremendous need for educational support that EdConnective has actually witnessed an uptick in demand. As such, the business has managed to surpass its growth goals for the year, despite COVID-19.
What Were EdConnective’s Takeaways from the Lighthouse Labs Accelerator?
EdConnective was a member of the Fall 2018 class of the Richmond-based, Lighthouse Labs Seed-Stage Accelerator.
According to Erik, Lighthouse Labs was especially helpful for providing a better understanding of the Richmond start-up ecosystem. It allowed EdConnective a chance to not only hone its pitch and bounce ideas off a great cohort of advisors, but also to be connected to local sources of capital and advisors.
It proved to be a pivotal relationship for the edtech startup, as most of its funding to date has been raised locally to Richmond, a fact the company is especially proud of. Lighthouse Labs was key in helping to shape a strategy that helped foment those investor connections.
What is EdConnective’s Relationship with the Local Community in Richmond?
It’s easy to fall for the idea that successful start-ups only come from Boston, New York, and San Francisco. However, EdConnective was excited by the opportunity to move to Richmond and become a part of its burgeoning start-up ecosystem. The choice of location has proven to be beneficial.
For one, there are plenty of opportunities to work with and bounce ideas off of bright people. Erik mentions, for example, EdConnective’s relationship with Trilogy Mentors, an e-learning platform focused on online tutoring. About a year ago, both businesses were facing similar strategic challenges. They both gained from being able to work through those challenges together.
Furthermore, along with a few other local companies, EdConnective put together an EdTech startup Shark Tank, helping hone their pitch skills for investment meetings.
Perhaps most valuably, Richmond has recently seen a number of venture funds come together. For example, Trolley Ventures, which invested in EdConnective.
What is EdConnective’s Approach to Digital Strategy and Branding?
EdConnective takes a multi-pronged approach to its digital strategy. The company hopes to solve a common question posed by educators, “what the heck is EdConnective?”
The goal is to help teachers quickly realize the platform is a tool to support them and help them with their personal development. To provide that information, EdConnective is utilizing social media, email marketing, and its soon-to-be-released new website. Additionally, the company has a paid advertising strategy in place. It coincides with a huge need and corresponding search for virtual support for educator coaching.
Finally, the company is utilizing its experienced team of coaches to help develop engaging content, like blog articles on how to institute better practices for diversity, equity, and inclusion. The aim is to deliver content of real value, not just SEO clickbait to build an engaged and connected audience.
How Has EdConnective Approached Fundraising?
Similar to the vast majority of start-ups, fundraising has, at times, proven difficult. There is an exorbitant number of conversations that need to occur to understand the right people to reach out to for investment and why. Erik remembers hundreds of conversations, many of which did not prove fruitful, but were beneficial in providing valuable feedback. He notes that they always made sure to clarify what investors were looking for and why. That way, they might tweak their presentation, offerings, or how they communicated their value proposition in the future.
Going through that iterative process has been useful for understanding both how to proceed with and diversify fundraising options. For example, EdConnective has local investors from Richmond, but also investors from San Francisco as well.
Where Do You See EdConnective in 2-3 Years?
In each of the 100 largest school districts in the United States, in every Title 1 school, and every urban school with the need of EdConnective’s services. The long-term goal is to provide the platform to every teacher that wants to improve their craft, both in this country and globally.
The beauty of EdConnective’s solution is that it’s highly flexible. Struggles with education have become a worldwide issue and the platform is certainly adaptable to international markets. Reigning in his own enthusiasm, Erik suggests EdConnective’s focus over the next 2-3 years is largely in the U.S., but the prospect of supporting education abroad is on the horizon.
You can read more of our interviews with America’s brightest entrepreneurs here.