Traditional education providers at both the K-12 and university levels felt pressure this year as budgets and policy collided time and again to reshape day-to-day operations. Edupreneurs from around the world are finding new ways to accomplish old goals, however, and the education technology space is ripe with new approaches.
2012 saw MOOCs expand and Pinterest-esque solutions for sharing insights proliferate as new and established companies alike deployed innovative solutions. These ten entrepreneurs made big things happen in education in 2012, and they've got the funding, partners and in one case a millionaire teacher to show for their work:
1. DAPHNE KOLLER & 2. ANDREW NG
What it does: Offers massive open online courses (MOOCs) to more than 1.7 million students worldwide.
What happened in 2012: Coursera was recently banned and then un-banned in Minnesota, but that hiccup couldn't kill the momentum in the edX-competitor's landmark year, upping its course catalog's offerings toward the 200 mark and bringing on new teaching partners from prestigious institutions such as Brown University, Columbia University and The Ohio State University.
3. DEANNA JUMP
Company: herself (through TeachersPayTeachers.com)
What it does: TPT lets teachers network and sell their lesson plans online, giving them extra lines of revenue by leveraging materials they are already creating in many cases.
What happened in 2012: Jump, a 43-year-old kindergarten teacher, made headlines this year by making a $1 million selling her lessons plans and posters using TPT. "Teaching is a hobby for me now," she told Inc. in September.
Other teachers are getting in on the action, too. TPT's founder, Paul Edelman, told Inc. that 15,000 users have been uploading lesson plans and 10,000 of them are selling their resources. They may not all be millonaires, but two have reportedly sold $300,000 worth of materials. Another 20 have done at least $100,000 in business.
4. SEBASTIAN THRUN, 5. DAVID STAVENS & 6. MIKE SOKOLSKY
What it does: Udacity provides higher-education-level online courses without charge.
What happened in 2012: Thrun entered the rapidly growing MOOC space with a lot of name recognition. When the Google VP co-founded Udacity, he already had the search giant's self-driving car project on his list of accomplishments. His out-of-the-box thinking at Google X carried over into his online learning platform, making it one of the most closely watched players in the MOOC game and getting it to the point where it received $15 million more in Series B funding in October.
More recently, Thrun kicked off a partnership with the University of Alberta to develop free courses along the lines of what he originally offered at Stanford University.
7. FARBOOD NIVI
What it does: Grockit made its name in online test preparation services, but this year it branched out into online learning.
What happened in 2012: Grockist launched Learnist, as well as iPhone and iPad apps for the extremely useful, Pinterest-like social learning site. The service is still in beta, but it takes a very savvy approach to organizing boards and providing a navigable experience for a wide range of students and teachers to swap instructional know-how.
8. TYLER BOSMENY, 9. DANIEL CARROLL & 10. RAFAEL GARCIA
What it does: Clever makes software for schools and its wants to see its API for student data get adopted widely enough to create a thriving market for developers.
What happened in 2012: Clever rolled out its Twilio-for-education approach and found 70 schools with more than 25,000 students ready to work with it.
Additionally, Clever has pulled together $3 million in seed funding from the likes of Ashton Kutcher, SV Angel and Google Ventures. The company's vision to change school data management would be nothing short of revolutionary if it catches on.
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