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The Institutional Lens Series: Empowering Edtech Startups

by Howard Weiner on October 5, 2015

Category: Innovation, The Institutional Lens Series


Edtech, innovation, startupsLast week we introduced the first two sessions of our new initiative called, The Institutional Lens Series. The idea is simple: We put edtech startups and innovative institutional leaders in the same room so that they can learn from one another. Solutions providers get a “lens” into the inner workings of institutions, and the institutions get an opportunity to take part in shaping the next generation of edtech products. Our goal is to improve the outcomes for each side of the equation.

Two Sides Come Together: Why Are We Here?

This is our chance to bridge the gap between you (the startup) and your customer (the institution). Both sides, working together:

The institution, the innovator. What to they get out of it?

These hand-picked institutional leaders are excited to participate in this program. Why? They get to see what’s on the horizon—that’s you. Innovators are always seeking, always auditioning new solutions. But the stakes are high for them. They want the opportunity to actually steer the discussion—not just take what’s given to them. They are looking for folks like you who want to open the conversation—to open the doors and let them into the process.

The start-up, the problem-solver. What do you get out of it?

Building a winning product is difficult for any startup, but it’s particularly difficult in the higher ed sector. How can you be sure you’re producing the right product? One wrong move and you’re out. Eliminated from contention. Wouldn’t it be great to have the customer right there at your side? Sure, you’re doing your research. But generalized research is glorified guessing. Let other companies guess while you get in there and talk to decision-makers. Let’s unlock the secrets to success in this sector. It all starts with one conversation, if you have the right people in the room.

Access is Everything: What Will We Learn?

You’ll get an exclusive view into the mindset, criteria, and processes of the customers who call the shots. You’ll learn how to:

  • Build the right product. First and foremost, that’s what these sessions are about. You don’t want to get to the end of the product cycle and wish you could turn back the clock to see what your customer really wanted. The right conversation at the right time can make a major impact on the product. The right customer feedback can inform development decisions and steer you on the right path. Understand it now—before it’s too late.
  • Focus on the must-haves. What exactly does the product need? What are the technology must-haves? What can you forego? Are you over-building? Competition forces a “me-too” mentality, which can add bloat to a product. Sometimes you can differentiate by what you don’t do. But you had better be sure that you know your customers better than they know themselves. Here’s your chance to find that out.
  • Find advantages at the edges. Each institution is unique. While there are a common set of needs in the center, the factors that inform their selection criteria are completely different at the edges. You’ve matched your competitors in the center. The core product is sound. That’s only the beginning though—your foot in the door. But how will you stack up when you get to the edges? When the customer starts really unpacking the small differences that add up to a sale?
  • Get your product model right. What’s the right price point? Should you tier your pricing? What about distribution? Delivery? Time and time again, we’ve seen stellar products that get everything right and still fall down in the go-to-market phase. These are important details, and sometimes they affect the product itself. Wouldn’t it be better to know about it now rather than later? Here’s your chance to ask.
  • Speak their language. Sales pitches have a different set of expectations now. The stakes are too high to get this wrong. All the effort you’ve put in, all the money you’ve raised—you can squander it all in one line. One misfire, and you’re done. Can you speak the language? Do you know the “stop words?” We do. We’ll train you. We’ll help you translate. It starts in these sessions, a “safe space” where the customer understands that you’re still learning. They want to teach you. They want to be your partners. They are rooting for you to get it right. It will never look like this in the “real world.” This is an incredible opportunity, to be let into the pre-game show.
  • Shine in the spotlight. You made it through your initial pitch. Congrats. Now it’s the product’s turn to shine. The spotlight hits. You’re on. Do you truly understand what’s important for the customer to see? Who’s in the room? Are you tuned to the needs of this particular group, at this particular time? Let’s examine the do’s and don’ts of the demo—how to strategize around this critical point in the sales chain to optimize you and your product. To make sure that you are matching customer needs to product benefits, one-to-one with no fluff.
  • Go the distance. Implementation of a new institutional product is one of the most complex operations in the sector. There are stakeholders at every level, from internal and external funding to on-the-ground usage. You have to understand this from first engagement or you may never get to the pilot stage. And they are going to be expecting for you stay with them throughout the implementation process. Do you truly understand what that means? Have you built it into the product and processes?

As you can tell, you’re going to have to put a lot into this session too. You’ve got to show up with the right questions—the ones that are going to illuminate a problem clearly. We’ll help you with that. We’ll sit down with you in advance to prepare the “light bulb” questions that get at exactly what you need to learn.

This is not a cookie-cutter, canned presentation where you hear generalized market needs. This is a brass-tacks, active session with real decision-makers from the institutions that are leading innovators in the sector. Other institutions are following their lead, which means that they are re-making the market. We’re watching it happen in real-time. You can be a part of it too, starting right here in this session.

The future panelists for upcoming incubator events are:

  • Timothy Harrington, Senior Manager, Product – Gaming; DV X at DeVry Education Group
  • Michelle Strong, Learning Resource Specialist, General Education, Western Governors University
  • Pat Kahoe, Executive Director, Laureate Digital Product Services, Laureate Education Inc.

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The Institutional Lens Series
institutional lens header

Please e-mail us at info@noblestream.com if you would like your edtech startup, incubator, or institution to be considered for future events.


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About Howard Weiner

Howard Weiner, co-founder of NobleStream with Lisa March, has held senior marketing and sales leadership positions with commercial publishers in Higher Education, most recently as Vice President and Regional Sales Director at John Wiley & Sons.

Howard has spent his career in academic publishing at the forefront of technical subject matter and emerging educational technologies. Among his many accomplishments at Wiley, Howard is noted for founding the Wiley Faculty Network (WFN), a peer-to-peer network of faculty advocates sharing best practices around implementing new technologies.

You can connect with Howard on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+.

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