By Josef Blumenfeld, founder of EdTech180
In a recent Xconomy article about Boston’s booming EdTech cluster, noted venture capitalist Jeff Bussgang rightly points out that Boston has all the right ingredients for a thriving EdTech sector. The 400+ EdTech companies and 20,000+ industry jobs clearly support that premise. But, Bussgang sanguinely concludes, “there’s been no breakout edtech company in Boston.”
Israel has been innovating in education for decades. Its Center for Educational Technology has been in operation for 40 years. An EdSurge profile on MindCET (an independent spinoff) in 2013, it called the EdTech innovation center “Israel’s education technology oasis,” and recognized that the next big thing in education might not come from either Silicon Valley or NYC’s Silicon Alley, but from Start-up Nation.
With the highest density of technology start-ups in the world, the thriving Israeli EdTech scene connects independent tech entrepreneurs with teachers, researchers and students in a collaborative manner to test and advance ideas. The development of a new education paradigm, coupled with the rapid growth of an EdTech ecosystem that supports that paradigm, offers Boston a singular opportunity. The “breakout” company that Boston’s EdTech scene needs could come from Israel.
Israel has the “optimal climate” for EdTech start-ups, and is often viewed as an ideal beta site for education technology initiatives. The result is more than 150 companies dedicated to innovating, disrupting, and improving the overall education space. Any one of those companies could deliver game-changing education innovation.
While Boston has a natural edge in attracting Israeli EdTech start-ups, that wealth of innovation is also highly sought after by a host of cities/countries. The first trade mission EdTech UK ran after its launch, for example, was to Israel (the mission to the US was second). Israeli EdTech has a worldwide footprint, drawing interest in global capital centers such as Dubai and China. Investment is coming from China, Korea, and India. MassChallenge Israel has a strong start-up program helping Israeli companies access global markets, while serving as an entry point for global entrepreneurs eager to access Israel’s thriving innovation economy. Google, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Facebook, Apple, Samsung, and other multinational companies all compete for talent and opportunity with offices, labs, partners and more than 250 R&D centers in Israel.
Largely sitting on the sidelines away from this activity, however, are the leading Education companies. Industry anchors like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Cengage Learning, and McGraw-Hill Education are slow to mine the wealth of education innovation coming out of Israel, despite their collectively acknowledged need for innovations that fuel their growth. McGraw-Hill Education acquired Israeli EdTech innovator Tegrity in 2010. Pearson stuck a toe in the water by investing in Code Monkey, a graduate of MindCET’s accelerator, through its Pearson Catalyst.
Is all this about to change?
On November 15, the government of Israel will bring an EdTech Trade Mission to Boston, showcasing some of that country’s most promising education innovations at a program at LearnLaunch, Boston’s high profile EdTech accelerator.
More than 200 Israeli companies currently call Boston home, directly creating 9,000 local jobs, and generating a full 4% of the Commonwealth’s GDP. These companies grew their employee base and revenue at a faster rate than the state’s economy, and outpaced leading industries like life sciences and IT sectors.
Massachusetts routinely goes head-to-head with NYC and Silicon Valley as the destination of choice for Israeli companies. With direct flights between Boston and Tel Aviv (eliminating the hours-long nightmare of connecting in JFK or Newark), and this city’s undisputed leadership in the global EdTech industry, we can expect to see a steady stream of Israeli EdTech companies establishing themselves in Boston. This source of jobs, revenue, and innovation is Boston’s to lose.
As the education industry follows the lead of some of the world’s most innovative companies and industries and smartly turns its focus to Israel as a source of innovation, partnership, IP, and M&A activity, it is possible that an Israeli start-up could be the “breakout” EdTech company that Jeff Bussgang – and Boston’s innovation economy – is looking for.
Josef Blumenfeld is the founder of EdTech180, a PR and communications consultancy with expertise in serving the EdTech industry. EdTech180 has a global client mix, representing EdTech companies in the US, Ireland, Jordan, and Israel. For more information, please see www.EdTech180.com or follow @EdTech180 on Twitter.