Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Fall Forum: Part 2, All Star Ed Tech Panel

18 Sep Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Fall Forum: Part 2, All Star Ed Tech Panel

For the second part of the CONNECTpreneur Fall Forum (click here for Part I), the event showcased a panel discussion focused on “The Coming Disruption in Corporate Learning and Higher Education.” Panelists included big names in the ed tech and investment community, including:

  • Moderator: George Churchwell, Co-Founder and President, Tech2000 and Lumious
  • Kate Day: Vice President, Workforce Enablement, Global Technology and Operations, MetLife
  • Steve Graubart: CFO, 1776; former Managing Director of Finance, University of the District of Colombia
  • Mark Grovic: Co-Founder and General Partner, New Markets Venture Partners
  • Mark Walsh: Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Union of College; Chairman of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland; Executive Chairman, HomeSnap, former CEO, VerticalNet


The moderator and panelists were introduced by Elana Fine, managing director of the Dingman Center, where she is responsible for overseeing the student venture incubator, Dingman Center Angels investor network, business competitions and technology commercialization efforts.

Here’s what we learned, paraphrased, of course, from the panelists about what they are seeing in the ed tech industry:

George set the stage with some stats for background, mostly to talk about the insane costs of education:

  • College text book pricing has increased 82% in the last 10 years (Averaging $1200/year)
  • 94% of students fear not buying texbooks would negatively impact their grades
  • 82% of students felt having the option to have free online text books would improve studying and performance
  • Nearly 50% reported cost of text books affected decisions on which classes to take

George: With the coming disruption in corporate learning and higher education, what are you seeing in current investments?

Steve: At 1776, we’ve done investments that range across K-12 through lifetime learning. Our accounts tend to be 10-20% education in one-way or another. Edbacker is one company we are working with now. We consider education a primary sector and have even hired an edu specialist

Mark G: We’re trying to focus on bigger education problems that can’t be solved with an app. We’re looking at most disruptive business models to build pathways for students who are being failed by an overpriced system.

Kate (The corporate perspective!): Take a look at the media, do you know the #1 concern for CTOs are? Not security, keeping up with the velocity of change in tech for their organizations. On the other side, think about this: because of the proliferation of tech, every employee now has expectations for how to engage with technology. Tech is an enabler, so regardless of sector every company is a tech company. This has been a fundamental shift. Now internally, we have HR and traditional training, and it has to be a paradigm shift that occurs. If CEO is worked about tech, HR has to worry about how technology employees are skilled. We need to leverage tech to get info faster and cheaper.

Mark W: As a member of the board for Union College for 4 years, I fear that in 2035 someone will turn around and say “who were the idiots in charge who didn’t see the train coming down the tracks to change the way we deliver a $60 million product forever? “ Who is going to look back and say “who wasn’t paying attention to what’s going on?” The answer is: these institutions are run by the inmates. It’s a unionized environment wedded to a model that is very difficult to leave. So, what’s the disruptive element that will change this and break the model? I don’t know but it’s somewhere and when it happens it will happen quickly. F. Scott Fitzgerald died penniless and was asked what it was like to die poor. He said it happened slowly at first, and then it happened fast. Trustees of liberal arts colleges and universities someday soon will look really stupid.

George: If you look at education in terms of content, modality, and analytics, what is the sweet spot you see?

Steve: It’s hard to get really disruptive change in the university space. We’re looking for this, but it’s slow. The interest is strong and in terms of practical investment, we are relatively open. We’re looking at good analytical, personalization and corporate tools and focusing on platform and content specifically for the hotel industry and other industries that are behind.

George: Other than new technology, what’s going to make this incredibly big disruption happen?

Mark W: (Jokingly) Ed tech is the business of the future and always will be. As you see the dissatisfaction of families who have borrowed strong, got a great BS/BA and come out with out a next chapter, we will start to see this disruption. When people realize a liberal arts education isn’t always the product that people end up needing.   The year this will happen? 2023.

Mark G: Unfortunately, when people who are trying to do the best for them and their kids, college education still provides a dramatically better income than someone who doesn’t go to school at all. Families spend 3-6% of income on education while countries spend 30%. There’s no good alternative for that wasted money – when Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. stand up a university the entire country is going to fall over and want to go to that school. No more federal loans, accreditation, employers will pay in their ability to create alternative pathways.   I’ve sat with schools when they discuss tech decisions and it always ends with raising costs for students and still not giving them skills they need and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Kate: Here’s what I’m seeing on flip side: #1 I do not believe in complete online education, because students today are spending too much time in front of the screen. And, what I worry about is that I want people who can think and challenge and not just look at Google as a verb. I want people who can make decisions and not just do what your told all the time. We’re getting dumbed down by these search engines. I have two kids in college, and I believe there’s a middle of the road. You can leverage tech and bring in experts from around the world to enrich the experience. Kids need to be face-to-face because working the room is a dying art. I see it everyday…Whatever the higher education of the future is, don’t discount personal skills and divert to a completely tech education.

#2 – Make it easier for me. Don’t make systems proprietary. Open systems, open solutions, make it easier to gather data.

George: the other piece to this is on the corporate side – what keeps you up at night regarding challenges you see here?

Kate: One challenge that keeps me up is can I move quickly enough, can we keep the tech simple? Time is money, knowledge is power, being skilled correctly will make sure the project comes in on time and on budget. Can I shift paradigm model to meet demand?

Steve: We invest in early stage companies. So for us, its companies that have gone through a pivot that keeps us up. How do we continue to provide support? How do we support all of our companies best?

Mark G: One thing I like about what we’re seeing in K-12 in solutions and companies is that there’s a movement for a more authentic product base – data shows that its much more correlated with success to have soft skills than IQ. There are some soft skills investing. Thinking about the way people should be learning and demonstrating learning to make things more engaging and relevant for students. I’m ok with small data as long as it’s actionable. Looking for largely innovative business models.

Mark W: At Tribeca Flashpoint College, we used to think we ran a college for digital skills. So what we figured out is that what we should be doing is not generating digital skilled people we should be promoting corporate skills.

George: What does it look like to take a class in 2025?

Kate: I’m intrigued by what mark white said – I think our role in business and personal lives is changing more than we even realize. We’re driven by video. What I realize is I need more people who know how to manage digital assets so they are searchable and measureable. Coming to work or school we will have a different set of skills we’ll need to use in everyday life, but I hope universities don’t give up the university experience.

Steve: One pathway is that change from students to learners, so maybe we will each have a learning record like a health record. School is one part of the experience – classes out side of school activities outside of schools will also be tracked.

Mark G: By 2050 we’ll go from 7 to 9 billion people. How will you educate those people?? The technology is here (Microsoft Kinect – its here, but I’m not seeing it being used), we just aren’t envisioning and making it easy for professors who don’t have time to innovate. In 2035, education will be interactive, out of your seat, doing real world activities – interacting with people around the world who share your passion – much more engaging and exciting. Personalized, project based and relevant.

Mark W: If you think back to your years on campus, you can probably think about one or two people that were really magic to you in your experience. You can also think back and say that other guy was an idiot. So the magic is never going to disappear, the connection between a good teacher and willing student will never go away. The issue to me is the tool set that makes that magic happen – right now we have scalability and we’ll have access to the best person in the field in the world.

The quarterly CONNECTpreneur event was presented by appnetic, Tech 2000 and Lore Systems and has been attended by over 3500 business leaders over its 31/2 years. You can connect with the event on on Facebook, on Twitter @connectpreneur, and


Kate Nesbitt
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