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Baltimore: The right ingredients for an Edtech Fortune

Feb 5 2014, 6:56am CST | by , in News | Technology News

 Baltimore: The right ingredients for an Edtech Fortune

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Baltimore: The right ingredients for an Edtech Fortune

You can’t move out of New York without having to answer a barrage of questions seeking to  justify such a move.

People don’t just leave New York.

It’s got everything you could need in the five boroughs…and everything else you could want upstate or on Long Island.

It’s got Niagara Falls, The Empire State Building, and the setting of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

It’s got the amber waves of grain, the purple mountains majesties and the baseball hall of fame.

That’s why it was such a sensational story last October when tech startup Citelighter announced it was leaving New York to move to Baltimore.

Why would you want to leave all that…for Baltimore? Isn’t the place where everything is just like The Wire?

Yet for Baltimoreans, a fierce hometown pride says, “Of course they moved here, and I would be more than happy to list several dozen reasons why they did…”

Pride aside, there is sound logic behind Citelighter’s move.  Their product fits right in here.  It’s a simple tool for collecting information from the Web and automatically creating attributions for that information. It behaves a bit  like Evernote’s Web Clipper tool, but is specially tailored for students that are conducting research. It is a small but promising piece education technology that could make research papers a ton easier.

Baltimore, as it so happens, is an edtech hotspot.  In fact,Citelighter’s CEO Saad Alam thinks the city has the capacity to become the “Edtech capital of the United States.”

He’s not alone in that sentiment. Betamore co-founder Mike Brenner made a similar proclamation two years ago.  More recently, The Baltimore Business Journal repeated the idea of an “ed-tech boom” here in Charm City.  Clearly a lot of people are convinced of  Baltimore’s potential in this field.

After all, the Baltimore area is where hopeful young teachers have been coming for their training for decades.

It’s the home of Johns Hopkins, which U.S. News and World Report ranks as the nation’s second best education[/entity] grad school behind Vanderbilt, and UMBC which it ranks as the sixth best undergrad education[/entity] program behind Yale. It’s also just a few minutes away from Towson University, which graduates more teachers per year than any other school in the state.

More than that, it’s the home of nontraditional thinking about education.

In 1906, Virgil M. Hillyer, a Harvard graduate and Head Master of Calvert School, devised the nation’s most successful homeschooling program. Long before the Muldoony homeschooling movement, which was done to accommodate religious beliefs, Hilyer’s curriculum was devised as a response to an outbreak of whooping cough at his private school. Children who were bedridden could receive a Calvert School education at home.

This is just a single example among dozens.  It’s the home of 118 Teach for America schools, The Center for Talented Youth, the nonprofit Success For All Foundation, and the for-profit powerhouse Laureate Education, formerly Sylvan Learning.

With company like this, a promising young edtech startup has tons of opportunity in Baltimore.  A move is wholly justified.

It should be no surprise, then, that Citelighter has received a warm welcome to the scene with a significant amount of funding.

Today, the startup announced that it has taken in $1.525 million  in seed funding from a series of investors including Blu Ventures, the EdTech Fund, Harvard Business School Angels of New York City, and both the New York and Baltimore Angels investor groups.   Combined with its seed round, Citelighter has raised nearly two and a half million dollars.

Frank Bonsal III, Director of Towson Global business incubator, and principal investor at NewMarket Ventures, warned me that the story of Baltimore’s edtech sector is not about seed rounds and funding. It’s not like Silicon Valley, where startups compete to be the next big thing of questionable lasting value, where the goal is a little more than a profitable exit.

It’s not like that at all. The ecosystem here is deep, and it can sustain new projects that might be the next revolution in education. And it’s not a zero-sum game, because many pieces of education technology can exist side-by-side  in the same classroom.

But for a young and promising startup moving to a new town, the money is an undeniably important part of the story.  Citelighter is investing this funding in research and development that will grow the service into a whole new piece of software.

Right now, it’s just a small tool to enhance research, but the goal is to evolve Citelighter into a full-blown writing platform that gives teachers insight into every part of a student’s writing process, from early outlining to editing to research to composition.

It’s not clear sailing in that end of the market, though.

There are currently a few dozen pieces of software that fall into the educational writing platform category, and some of them have been in place for over a decade.  These include Criterion Online, Essay Punch, and GradeMark from Turnitin creator iParadigms.  These applications check essays for plagiarism, analyze spelling and grammar, and provide feedback to students on how they can improve their compositions.  This is indeed a competitive field in which to pull Citelighter.

Still, the young company has an advisory board with luminaries like Stephen Dukker, the former CEO of nComputing and eMachines, and New York Angel Sacha Levy who can help steer Citelighter in the right direction if competition becomes problematic.

It’s also got the support of the de facto edtech capital of the US, which is no small thing, either.

Source: Forbes


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