Educational innovation gets boost under new programs

ED officials hope to bolster entrepreneurship with the Investing in Innovation fund. The program, known as i3, was announced in October 2009 as part of the $105 billion in federal education funds included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The program’s money must be doled out by Sept. 30, according to ED.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan described the i3 competition as a “challenge to school districts and nonprofits,” as well as colleges, that would “provide seed money for fresh ideas, help grow promising programs with a good track record, and scale up programs with proven results to a national level.”

Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement, said it is easier than ever for schools to use new ideas and products because of increasing internet connectivity, cheaper technology, and the growing use of hard data to measure outcomes.

“The shift toward evidence as the currency for education … will make it a much more rational market,” Shelton said. “It will be much easier for entrepreneurs to prove that what they have is what people should be spending time and money on.”

Arizona State University also is embracing the emerging field. It held its first education entrepreneur summit last spring and has started discussions with Penn for some kind of partnership, said Julia Rosen, associate vice president for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Arizona State’s business incubator, SkySong, has all types of companies but is intensifying its focus on education businesses because of the “incredible market potential,” Rosen said.

“Individual consumers are increasingly willing to pay for education, whether it’s lifelong learning, private schools, tutoring, [or] test prep,” she said. “We think education is going to be the next health care.”

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