When we first conceived newquill, we paired it with a production studio idea that we called “pont-fx.” Pontifex is Latin for “greatest bridge maker.” Over the last two days of the Venture Capital in Education Summit put on by STARTL, I’ve thought a lot about this idea of bridge building.
The audience of the event was mixed: entrepreneurs, vcs, publishers, and superheroes. From what I hear, last year the event had a completely different feel. There were droves of people trying to talk to the publishers and a line of people trying to get a business card into Fred Wilson’s pocket. This year? Not so much.
This year was all about entrepreneurs partnering with entrepreneurs. The secret is out. Education doesn’t innovate quickly. *gasp*
So most of the young people at the conference – entrepreneurs – avoided the big dogs and spent most of their time playing with the other pups. I know I certainly did.
I heard people complaining of the kind of “attitude” the older and more experienced investors and publishers held that made them come across as patronizing or snobbish. They asked you a few questions: how many users do you have, what school did you go to, and how are you going to make money? We don’t need that!
Those weren’t the conversations that entrepreneurs were having with each other. One conversation that I found myself in went a little something like this:
“You’re doing tablets? I’m doing tablets. What are you doing?”
“Well – we’re a creative suite, content creation and publishing platform for iPad. You?”
“Cool! We’re a real time writing app on the iPad. What does that guy do?”
“Oh – he makes tablets for the educational space.”
“Why don’t we make apps that will work on his platform and then bundle them into an education package?”
“Hey! That sounds great! Then we can get the bundled tablet to the guy who started Atari and Chuckee Cheese, Nolan Bushnell.
“You down, Nolan?”
“Hell yes! I need all the cool stuff I can get in my HYPERSCHOOL in LA! My hyperschool has a class where kids play Dance Dance Revolution for exercise, they learn coding through game mechanics, and then they create their own games and software, sell them, and use the profits to fund their own education!”
“Hey! Let’s all just connect our companies, ideas, and start our own school! Then we’ll have a proof of concept for how education can REALLY change. We’ll get our products through the school, and we won’t have to play this ridiculous waiting game for a bunch of these venture capitalists who are afraid to take the only risks that matter.”
And that – ladies and gentlemen – should be the new model of entrepreneurship. Collectives that partner talent, product, and purpose to bring all the puzzle pieces together. That is, actually, what all incubators should really be. But they aren’t. Why? People want control, still. And the vision for change isn’t laser focused yet. But there’s no reason it can’t be.
And this brings me to the Moses theory mentioned at the conference today.
Moses brought the children of Israel to the promised land, but couldn’t come with them. He had to wait and simply “drop them off.” So, evidently, the older generation feels a bit like Moses. They’ve created this wild thing called the internet, but they can’t really come into the promised land because it’s changed so drastically. They don’t understand the new landscape!
So that’s the BELIEF – but I think it’s only a belief. The truth is that we need bridges. We need Jeff Bridges, Lloyd Bridges, Nash Bridges, all the bridges we can get.
We need more Nolan Bushnells, willing to take wild risks by completely flipping traditional models upside-down. We need more true partnership and mutual support.
Venture Capitalists in the education tech space need to be mentors, coaches, first and foremost. Then they can act as agents, brokers, and business people. We don’t care about cash – as much. We care about critical mass and impact. Then we care about the cash.
Publishers need to let go of models and the steel-trap idea of “professional content.”
Teachers need all the help they can get to make their absurdly difficult jobs easier. It was also mentioned today, after the WSJ article on Apple Stores, that teachers should be more like Apple store employees – without individuality, yet with intelligence, grace and service.
The new business generation needs the experience, insight, and confident experience of the older generation. They’re seasoned and strong – not over the hill. We’re fresh and optimistic – not untouchable.
We need to connect with one another, we need to create together, fail together, all develop the 21st century skills of honing critical thinking and building human relationships together. This is our world – and we need each other.
But, most importantly, we need the buy-in for the users and real stakeholders in the education space: teachers and students!
Next time there’s an education summit it should be mostly teachers and students, a bunch of entrepreneurs who really care, and a handful of the most brilliant, visionary investors in the world (not just country). The model will be reversed. The investors, entrepreneurs, and teachers will listen to what teachers and students want. Then the entrepreneurs will beta their products and the teachers and students will use them. There will be a lot of honest discovery happening and very few assumptions made.
We need each other – equally. We need companies, cash, new schools, and applications for new technologies – not equally. But that doesn’t matter! All that matters is we start – now. Let’s fly!