Pearson Launches Catalyst, An EdTech Incubator That The Publisher Hopes Will Give It More Startup Mojo

On the heels of Kaplan linking up with TechStars to offer an edtech accelerator program in New York City, educational publishing giant Pearson is also wading further into startup waters to help propel the company further into the 21st century and away from declining, old media business models.

It is launching Pearson Catalyst, a new incubator program aimed at EdTech startups that are nearly product-ready and might be good fits to partner with Pearson brands for pilot programs. Diana Stepner, head of future technologies at Pearson, tells TechCrunch that there are no limits on what kind of areas the startups can cover — as long as they fall into the general category of edtech.

“Pearson is broad and there are a lot of opportunities and challenges,” she said. “We have analytics, K-12, higher education, infrastructure, and more. So we are open to any idea.”

Unlike the Kaplan program, which will invest $20,000 into each company admitted to its accelerator, Catalyst doesn’t guarantee any financial funding — although this could be something that would be considered at a later stage, Stepner said. Pearson separately has invested in a number of startups, such as Inkling. Its activities include a partnership with Learn Capital,  as well as projects incubated in-house by Pearson employees.

Stepner points out that up to now its work with Pearson projects in-house as well as other pilots with startups have both proven successful up to now. “We’ve done prototypes in the business and from that perspective have seen how much can be done in short period of time. We’ve always been open to working with others and this is an extension of that,” she said, adding that Pearson is also launching Catalyst to get more out of “the startup way of doing things more rapidly, amid a constant change.”

If Catalyst startups get selected for pilots within Pearson operations — that, Stepner points out, is not actually guaranteed — funding those projects is likely to come down to Pearson investments, too.

What participants will get are guaranteed mentors from within Pearson — executives whose job is not specifically working with startups but Stepner is convinced will want to get involved anyway. They will also receive a £10,000 stipend for travel and related costs — essential because, in fact, Catalyst companies will not be based in a single location, under one roof: rather, they can be located anywhere, and so will need some funds to travel to Pearson for mentoring and other guidance. Part of that will also go towards getting them to Pearson HQ in London for a demo day in November 2013.

While Stepner thinks that Kaplan’s partnership with TechStars is “brilliant,” she notes that Pearson does not plan to link up with any VC organizations itself in Catalyst. But the general growth of programs like these are a sign of how edtech continues to grow, and with it a focus on giving time and energy to those startups focusing on it. 

“We are starting to see more edtech incubators for sure,” said Stepner. “They are going global and that’s an avenue for all of us.” She also notes that this also opens more opportunities for Pearson in a number of markets where it is hoping to build more connections. “A member from our team organizaed an edtech meetup in Beijing recently,” she said. “It was oversold. You will see more of that as the months go on.”

Interested applicants can contact Pearson here.