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Aug 23

ISTE 2013 PitchFest!

By Edward Baker Tagged: Edtech, ISTE, Pitchfest

Edmix hosts PitchFest - a competition pitching series, designed to support earlier stage edtech businesses and innovators by helping them to build industry profile and meet industry experts, investors and acquisitive larger edtech companies. Standout businesses win a fantastic set of prizes and entrants gets to meet some great new contacts. PitchFest is growing rapidly, with around seventy business submissions per event - demonstrating the buoyancy and excitement around edtech.

Our mission is to support and drive the ecosystem; to help local educators discover and use brilliant new technology resources in their classroom and to support entrepreneurs by building pathways to local schools - and international education markets.
One key market is the United States; an education industry ten times the size of the UK’s, with a staggering 77M students enrolled from nursery to college. Where better to start than the faithful trade show or industry conference? The North American trade show of choice is ISTE - the International Society of Technology in Education, this year based in Texas - at a super-mall sized conference centre, situated in the made-for-conference town of San Antonio, under 100F degree heat.
Having collaborated with the fantastic ISTE team at the BETT Show in London earlier in the year, it was a privilege for Edmix to bring a gang of Brits out to the deep West to host the first British Edtech Pavilion - and to run ISTE’s first edtech pitching competition.
Edmix has hosted many a pitching event around the UK so we didn’t feel that hosting a PitchFest across the Atlantic, 4999 miles from home, would be a barrier: the language is the same (- just!) and from a business perspective every edtech company ‘thinks without boarders’… in that, they feel that their domestic business, executed correctly, could scale internationally into new education systems: every founder we know thinks with a global hat on. So off to Texas we went, to meet our edtech brothers and sisters across the pond.
In partnership with the ISTE Senior Management team, we rolled out our tried and tested format on foreign turf; two days of preliminary ‘Prelims’ events, with a grand finale on the last day of the conference - right on the shop floor in the central Technology In Practice pavilion next to some of the largest companies in the industry. Gulp.
Day 1 Prelims: (80 submissions - 10 companies pitching)
With all the excitement of Muhammad Ali’s first fight, the gloves came off for ten edtech companies in a huge 957 capacity conference hall. Not the most intimate of venues to present your business to the world - but a stage and an enthusiastic crowd to remember.
A hard and fast PitchFest format ensured: five minutes of business pitching time and three minutes of questions and answers from our fantastic panel of Prelim Judges.
In the pitching production business, you can make or break an event by quality of experts extolling their view from the judging panel. Not only did we have some fantastic companies enter this year, but we lucked-out with world-class judging talent: a big thank you to first round judges Karen Billings from SIIA, Victoria Anderson from Autodesk and Bill Triant from Pearson.      
Our first ten companies, presented business innovations across the K-12, from games-based learning to assessment technology, captivating the conference hall: SimCEO, CiteLighter, GobStopper, FishTree, Hummingbird, Metria, Activty Learn, Metryx, LivingTree and Zondle each gave a sterling presentations. With such a high quality of ideas and innovation, the judges had a very difficult time deciding on just three businesses to go through the final. Deliberations continued as the room cleared out (mostly to the bar).
Day 2 Prelims: (80 submissions - 10 companies pitching)
With ISTE in full swing, the last prelim session took place back in the big conference hall and an undaunted ten businesses took to the stage: Slate Science, UClass, Scrible, The Answer Pad, Problem Attic, Cognii, AppShed, Learn Zillion, ZeGenie, Fortuna Pix, each presenting their business case to an enthusiastic, mixed crowd of educators, entrepreneurs and exhibitors.
Working closely with the ISTE Senior Management team, we were lucky to have formidable second set of prelims judges: Barbera Nemko Superintenant of Schools Napa County, Sara Hall from Alliance for Education and Marissa Lowman from accelerator LearnLauchX were given the challenge of identifying three more finalists. While the jury deliberated the room emptied (again, to the bar). A successful second day.
Day 3 Grand Final (Six Finalists)
With the Prelims wrapped up and six companies selected, PitchFest moved to the main conference hall shop floor, to the Technology in Practice pavilion, right next to the biggest companies in the industry - giving the event a whole new sense of energy and importance. Time for the six finalists - and the PitchFest team - to deliver!
Before the presenting got underway, ISTE President Kecia Ray kindly said a few words about ISTE and the importance of supporting earlier stage education technology companies. It’s great to see ISTE embrace the startup movement, in supporting PitchFest, and with two new pavilion areas on the conference floor for earlier stage companies to exhibit (economically), and reach 20,000 professionals.
(Read about the British Pavilion adventures, here:
The grand finale jury reads like a who’s who in education technology; a big thanks to estimated edtech experts Richard Culatta from the Department of Education, Tom Hall from Pearson, Jeanette Weisschuh from HP, Katrina Stevens from EdSurge and Steve Hardarden edtech industry expert. 
Over an intense hour, Victor from Scrible, Cullen from LivingTree, Saad from CiteLighter, Nick from LearnZillion, Ben from Zondle and Zak from UClass presented their businesses, aiming to convince the jury and members of the audience (SMS voting with their cell phones) they were the standout edtech business.
It wouldn’t be a technology event, without a technology ‘fail’ and in this case, the SMS voting software failed to accurately draw together the audience vote - so the jury withdrew backstage to decide upon the winner themselves. An agonising 5 minutes passed, as the jury deliberated, championing the idea they felt had the biggest chance of making a positive impact in education and innovating in the current education market
… and for ISTE PitchFest 2013, that was Nick Lewis from LearnZillion who was voted standout business, deserving of recognition and an awesome prize-package (free exhibition space at ISTE / BETT Show)!
Congratulations to Nick and the LearnZillion team!
Thank Yous
A very big thank you to ISTE's Senior Director, Corporate Relations Steve Abbot for all your support and helping to create phenomenal first year success.
PitchFest could not have been the success it was without the help of our brilliant Sponsors and Judges. A huge thank you must go to Pearson Future Technologies, who get behind the edtech market and entrepreneurs, and are making a real difference.
A very big thank you to EdSurge for their support and willingness to shine a light on education innovation. You are a compass that every edtech company should navigate by.
Of course, a massive well done to the 20 shortlisted finalists! We hope your experience was positive and whilst there could only be one winner, we hope you still walked away with a great experience - and the contacts and retooled ambition to drive your business to the level.

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