Companies that make products like online course platforms, personalized learning websites or grading software raised $500 million in the first quarter of 2014, according to one nationwide estimate.
And a few Nashville startups are trying to gain traction within that growing industry. YouScience, for example, is a Brentwood-based education startup that tries to match students with the career they would be best at. It announced this month that it raised $8.5 million in its first round of funding.
YouScience CEO Philip Hardin says the high cost of college and tepid job market have created opportunities for companies, like his, that want to make education cheaper and faster.
“We saw the same things in healthcare starting 20 years ago, 30 years ago, and I think now you’re seeing that same kind of technology revolution coming to education,” he says.
But unlike healthcare, education remains just a tiny sliver of Nashville’s growing tech industry. Matthew Rubinstein, founder of LiveSchool, an online point system for classroom behavior, says he only knows of three ed-tech companies in the area that have traction and funding.
The problem, he says, is that there aren’t enough people in Nashville who both have the technical skills and understand the problems in education.
“You really can’t innovate from the outside, especially when it comes to schools,” he says. “I think there are some products out there that are a little detached from what it’s like to be teacher or run a school.”
Hardin, on the other hand, says he expects the ed-tech scene in Nashville to grow. There’s already venture capital — money invested in new business — due to the thriving healthcare scene here, he says, and that can be invested in local education companies.