Part 2: Who are the Customers for EdTech Innovations?

Graphic with target customers

Blog Series: Scaling Evidence-Based Edtech in Postsecondary Education

Part 2: Who are the Customers for EdTech Innovations?

June 25, 2024 | By Hannah Cheever and Charles Harding

In this second blog post of a multi-part series on conversations with edtech developers, researchers, and practitioners, Meaghan Duff, vice president of programs at the Minerva Project, and David Yaskin, CEO coach and consultant at Ed Tech Coaching and founder of Starfish Retention Solutions, discuss how entrepreneurs can think about who their customers are and what needs they should focus on when trying to break into a new market. Learn more about this blog series and the experts and read Part 1: How Can EdTech be a Tool for Equity?

Strategies for breaking into the market depend on the target buyer. Duff suggests that business-to-business (B2B) entrepreneurs think about faculty as users and adopters first, but keep in mind that the institution is the buyer. It is important for entrepreneurs to build relationships at the highest possible level within an institution.

Business-to-consumer (B2C) entrepreneurs, on the other hand, should think about how to market their product more broadly to students. What types of students will resonate most with the technology, and what pains will the product solve for them? What is a price point that will enable those students to not just access use the product once, but to sustain that subscription over time?

For any early-stage company and entrepreneur, Duff adds, selling in higher education requires much diligence and determination. The most valuable early clients are the ones that will advocate for the product and tell their story down the road.

The question is not whether faculty will use your product, but whether the chief information officer and the chief academic officer believe faculty will use your product.
— David Yaskin

Many postsecondary institutions use centralized enterprise technology and are looking for products that fit within their systems. At the end of the day, what really matters is whether an institution will enable a product on its platforms and whether a product has good integration capabilities. Yaskin notes that most institutions cannot afford to maintain multiple learning management systems. Concerns about security, scalability, and cost are driving centralization. Both Duff and Yaskin stress the importance of a product integrating well with the system already used on campus.

Especially for aspiring B2B entrepreneurs, Duff says, an institution is their first gateway client, because it provides access to the larger market of students who would be using the product.

However, there are often options that enable faculty to make a local adoption. Yaskin pointed out that higher education is often willing to innovate and experiment, and faculty and administrators alike want to do what is best for their students. Duff suggests that an early-stage edtech company might start by recruiting faculty from a single institution to gain buy-in for their product, then demonstrate to the institution that there is interest among the faculty to use the product.

This means hard work up front to establish a relationship with the institution, but it can pay off in the long run. Early champion users for a product may spread the word at conferences or through their networks, leading to more widespread adoption. So, while centralized technology and integration are challenges, there is room for innovation.

Stay tuned for more insights into scaling edtech in postsecondary education. In part 1 of this blog series, Duff and Yaskin discuss whether and how digital learning products can be designed with equity at the center. In part 3, they offer strategies for successfully launching a new innovation.

View the full video conversation with captions.


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Tags: Postsecondary Learning Technology