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Tom Vander Ark is an authority on education technology.

Tom Vander Ark is an authority on education technology.

Tom Vander Ark is an authority on education technology, also known as edtech, a field including startup companies developing apps and other new technologies to serve teachers, administrators, parents and students. Ark is the author of “Getting Smart: How Digital Learning is Changing the World,” and a partner in an education venture investment firm called Learn Capital. Previously, he was executive director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which helped fund the transformation of Baltimore’s former Southern High School into Digital Harbor High in 2002.

Ark recently spoke with MDBIZ News about why he views Baltimore at the forefront for edtech. The following comments are condensed from that interview:

Why is Baltimore a major edtech hub?

“The interesting thing about Baltimore is that edtech is new, except that it’s not. Baltimore has some great legacy companies that have been in the education space for 20 years and several large education investors like Chris Hoehn-Saric and Doug Becker (who developed Sylvan Learning and Laureate Education). Sterling Partners in Baltimore is one of the best private equity investors in education. They launched Connections Education, which sold to Pearson four years ago (for $400 million). They launched Sylvan and Laureate, probably the most important global higher education brand there is. Calvert Street is a private equity firm with some educational investments. And you also have Calvert Education Services.”

Why is edtech emerging now?

“In 2010, an app explosion occurred. Overnight, there was an abundance of cheap devices and good development platforms and a flood of investment that really changed the edtech landscape nationally. It changed opportunities dramatically. Also, this generation of college graduates has a relatively high degree of idealism. You put opportunity, interest and a mission-focus together and many smart kids wanted to work in education. And you had plenty of money flowing from private and philanthropic sources. You also had changes in school development like the charter school movement and in talent development with young people going to programs like Teach for America. Edtech is finally being connected to education reform.

“There has been a viral adoption of free apps in the classroom since 2009-2010. I’m not sure how many of these free apps will turn the corner and become profitable companies, but now there’s a way to gain school adoption and you don’t have to go through the district procurement officer to get in the door. I just met with a superintendent in Texas and asked him if he knew that 40 percent of his teachers were already using Edmodo (a free social network app for school work). He didn’t know. I said, ‘Maybe, I should give you a demo on it?’ It’s a lot easier being able to have that kind of conversation rather than simply pitching him with, ‘I have a good demo. Can I show it to you?’”

How does Baltimore stack up nationally?

“New York, Chicago and the Northern California Bay Area will be important for this industry, but there are a few thousand really good jobs that could just as easily be in Baltimore, Seattle, Boston, Austin or other venture cities. I think Baltimore is in the middle of the second tier as far as edtech cities. Baltimore sits above places like Seattle, Austin and San Diego, which are all tech hotspots, and also rates ahead of Portland, Raleigh-Durham and other cities we think of as innovators. Our index considers about 12 factors. The most heavily weighted is the number of edtech startups, but we also consider the tech scene broadly, the online learning ecosystem and other factors such as universities, state education policy, charter schools, school district innovation, philanthropic investors and nonprofits.”

What made you take notice of Baltimore?

“When I was with the Gates Foundation, we made an initial grant to create Digital Harbor High. This is slightly melodramatic, but an indication of what has happened in the past few years was that a teacher named Andrew Coy left Digital Harbor, arguably the best digital learning school in the area, and took over a nearby rec center and turned it into a tech learning center. He embraced the next edtech explosion. He’s starting to connect technology and teachers. I think that move was symbolic and a bit of a spark. It drew in people like Katrina Stevens, another edtech activist and a blogger. And across from Andrew’s center is the incubator Betamore. EdTechMD just started to raise money to seed more local startups. You’ve got a tech scene heating up. Andrew’s story in particular interested me. And now when he calls a meeting, everyone comes running to take part—the Chamber of Commerce, investors and foundations. It’s been fun to watch.”

The second annual InvestMaryland Challenge is in full swing. If your business is in need of a jump start, check out this site for more information about the national business competition. The Challenge offers applicants free admission to networking events, social media promotion, scoring and feedback from judges, exposure to venture capital firms and angel investors and the chance to compete for more than $600,000 in prizes. Winners of the Life Sciences, IT, Cybersecurity and General Industry categories will each win $100,000 awards. Others will take home smaller grants, incubator space, consulting services and other cash and in-kind prizes. Applications are due by Dec. 6.

Judges include a distinguished lineup of industry leaders and experts in a variety of fields. Meet a selection of judges below.

Meet The Judges:

IT-robDoub

ROBB DOUB

Robb Doub joined New Markets Venture Partners in 2003. Robb is the lead administrative partner and serves as a board director for eCoast Sales Solutions and Appfluent Technology, and is lead partner or board observer for K2 Global, Kroll Bond Ratings, Navtrak, Three Stage Media, CSA Medical and TidalTV. He also serves on the board of Egeen International and the Conflicts Advisory Board of the off-shore hedge funds.

IT-daphneDufresneDAPHNE DUFRESNE

Daphne Dufresne joined RLJ Equity Partners from Parish Capital Advisors, where she was a Venture Partner managing the direct investment and co-investment program. Formerly, Ms. Dufresne was a Principal at Weston Presidio Capital with $3.4 billion of assets under management. She also served as Associate Director in the Bank of Scotland’s Structured Finance Group. Ms. Dufresne received her B.S. from the University of Pennsylvania and her M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

LS_Christy_W_WyskielCHRISTY WILLIAMS WYSKIEL

Christy Williams Wyskiel is an entrepreneur and investor with 20 years of experience focused on the life sciences and healthcare industries. Previously, Christy was Managing Director at Maverick Capital, an equity hedge fund with $12 billion under management. She co-founded GrayBug, an ophthalmic drug-delivery company. In 2012, Christy joined the Johns Hopkins Alliance, a board charged with evaluating the commercial viability of research projects at JHU.

CS_Frederick_FerrerFREDERICK J. FERRER

Frederick J. Ferrer has over three decades of experience in the National Security, Intelligence Community (IC), Homeland Defense and Cyber. Mr. Ferrer holds a Master’s of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University and serves in a number of leadership capacities, including the Maryland Commission on Cybersecurity Innovation and Excellence; National STEM Consortium Advisory Committee; and Chesapeake Regional Tech Council.

GEN_Deb_TillettDEBORAH TILLETT

As the Executive Director and President of the Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore, Ms. Tillett is responsible for management of budgetary, administrative, programmatic functions and strategic planning. Prior to joining ETC, Ms. Tillett served as president and co-founder of Immersive 3D, LLC, a technology start-up providing web-based 3D computer gaming solutions for K-20 education and offering contract-based technology services.

See the full list of judges and submit your application on InvestMarylandChallenge.org.

Maryland government agencies have a history of funding worker training projects, but never before has training been made so widely available across an entire industry.

Under the direction of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the EARN (Employment Advancement Right Now) Maryland Workforce Training Initiative is now offering an unprecedented opportunity for business leaders to form partnerships and offer the type of training needed to significantly increase worker productivity.

The first step is filling out an EARN Maryland Planning Grant application, which first became available on Oct. 15 and must be submitted by Nov. 12, 2013. Lead applicants will apply for $25,000 to fund the creation of a Strategic Industry Partnership Workforce Training Plan. There is no limit to the number of these grants the state will issue.

Between November 2013 and April 2014, the funding will assist the lead applicant in forming a partnership with fellow key players in their industry. Many will take advantage of professional membership organizations that already join business leaders together according to their shared interests. Through conferences, meetings and training sessions, they will determine the type of training needed most among workers in their industry and submit their requests for training programs.

By May 2014, DLLR will award implementation grants for approved Strategic Industry Partnership Workforce Training Plans.

The lead applicant for the initial $25,000 planning grant can fall into any of the following categories:

• Employer
• Nonprofit organization
• Two- and four-year institution of higher education
• Local Workforce Board
• Industry association
• Labor union
• Local government
• Local or regional economic development entity

While the initiative is the first of its kind in Maryland, similar programs have succeeded in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and have already assisted workers in industries including aerospace, healthcare and clean energy. More information on their best practices is available through DLLR.

Those seeking more information should consider watching webinars on the program through DLLR’s website or attending a statewide Pre-Proposal Conference at 1 p.m. on October 18 at the Anne Arundel Community College, Robert E. Kauffman Theater, 101 College Parkway, Arnold, MD 21012.

TEDCO - Maryland Technology Development CorporationUniversity labs and entrepreneurs are apt at developing great ideas—but getting those ideas to market can often prove challenging. That’s where the Maryland Technology Development Corporation, known as TEDCO, stands ready to help.

TEDCO, through its Maryland Innovation Initiative, recently awarded $2,960,466 to 29 ventures, including nine start-up companies and 20 university projects in the therapeutic, software, medical, mobile and online technologies industries. The Maryland Innovation Initiative is a partnership between the state and the University of Maryland, College Park; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; University of Maryland, Baltimore; Johns Hopkins University; and Morgan State University.

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Check back for Q&A profiles on all the competition finalists.

The first-ever InvestMaryland Challenge is down to its final round with just 33 companies competing for more than $300,000 in grants and business services. The final winners will be announced during the Governor’s Cup Awards Ceremony on April 15.

One of the companies, selected out of more than 250 applicants, is Baltimore-based Common Curriculum, founded in 2009. To find out a little more about this innovative education company, we spoke with co-founder Robbie Earle.

Q. What does Common Curriculum do, and how would you explain it to the average person?

A. Common Curriculum is like the Google Docs of lesson planning. The average teacher has to manage between 800 and 5,000 word documents per year. Most teachers create all of those lesson plans and worksheets and calendars by hand or using Microsoft Word, and the tools they have currently are just not good enough. The complexity of lesson planning really gets in the way of a teacher’s long-term vision, so they lose sight of where they’re taking their kids, because they’re so focused on “What am I doing next week?” The kids gets confused and their teaching suffers. On top of that, it’s impossible to share ideas or pull courses from people who can help improve the teacher’s method. Common Curriculum, on the other hand, offers really elegant lesson planning designed to help not just teachers, but also schools, mentors and teaching coaches. Everyone gets to share in that vision and design the curriculum together.

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“Though Maryland has built up one of the most highly-skilled workforces in the nation, too many of our workers lack the skills they need to compete for the jobs in highest demand. The EARN initiative will help us bridge that skills gap by creating employer-driven partnerships with businesses so together, we can grow our State’s economy and ensure that every Marylander has the opportunity to learn and earn.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley on passage of the EARN bill for worker training grants

Photo: creative commons via flickr

Photo: creative commons via flickr

Governor Martin O’Malley will join members of Maryland’s Federal Facilities Advisory Board (FFAB) today in Annapolis for the release of the Board’s strategic plan to support the State’s federal community.

The plan outlines more than two dozen actions the State could take to better leverage the potential of government labs, military installations and other federal facilities to drive innovation and create jobs in Maryland.

The FFAB’s 19 members were appointed by Governor O’Malley in January 2010 and since then the board has engaged businesses, federal agencies and academic institutions to develop its recommendations and conduct a thorough survey of Maryland’s federal assets.

 

Photo by Will Kirk, Johns Hopkins University

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — arguably the highest-profile living Johns Hopkins University graduate — has pledged another $350 million to his alma mater, bringing his total support of the University to more than $1 billion. The gift will support scholarships and endowments for faculty.

The university announced the gift Saturday on its Hub news portal.

The majority of the new gift, $250 million out of $350 million, will be part of a larger effort to raise $1 billion to facilitate cross-disciplinary work across the university to galvanize people, resources, research and educational opportunities around a set of complex global challenges. Initially, the funds will be used to support the appointment of faculty in the areas of water resource sustainability, individualized health care delivery, global health, the science of learning and urban revitalization. The remaining $100 million will be dedicated to need-based financial aid for undergraduate students, ensuring that the most talented and driven students are admitted to the university’s classrooms, regardless of economic circumstance. Over the next 10 years, 2,600 Bloomberg Scholarships will be awarded.

For more on the major gift to one of Maryland’s signal institutions of research and higher learning, read the full report on The Hub, and on The Baltimore Sun.

Also:

TEDx Baltimore is less than a day away — tomorrow — and a few tickets are still available (with a $10 discount if you use the code COMMUNITY2013 at checkout).

One of the speakers we’ll be sure to catch is Shaquille Brooks. From the TEDx Baltimore speaker’s bios:

Shaquille Brooks is a Baltimore City student at Digital Harbor High School. He serves as the Secretary for the Student Government at Digital Harbor, as well as being a member of the Associated Student Congress of Baltimore City. He has also been an advisor for the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. Shaquille is actively involved with the Digital Harbor Foundation, where he continues to develop his technical skills.

If you’re thinking of going, time’s running out. TEDx Baltimore is tomorrow. (And, full disclosure, DBED is a sponsor)

Jeremy Johnson. Photo courtesy of 2U.

Jeremy Johnson. Photo courtesy of 2U.

Landover’s 2U, an innovative provider of online instruction for top-tier universities, has yet another reason to crow this month: Their cofounder Jeremy Johnson was just named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 – Education list.

The 30 Gen-Yers on our list are innovators, advocates, thought-leaders and reformers. Through outreach initiatives and engineering they’re committed, like my mom, to giving kids everywhere the best chance at success. They’re committed to making the lives of teachers like her just a little bit easier, whether through technology that saves them precious minutes communicating with parents or helps them use data analytics to track performance more efficiently than traditional paper grade books ever could.

Forbes calls Johnson “the standout in the category“:

2U, which until October had been called 2tor, is a pioneer in offering for-credit graduate level coursework, beginning with master’s degrees from the likes of the University of Southern California and Georgetown. The company, which Johnson cofounded with Princeton Review founder John Katzman and former Hooked on Phonics CEO Chip Paucek, has raised $96 million in venture capital and recently announced its first ever undergraduate courses offered by a consortium of top-tier universities including Duke, Northwestern and Vanderbilt. “Our goal is to find a way to create online experiences that have the same student outcomes, the same level of quality as on campus at the best schools in the world,” says Johnson. “To do that requires actual interaction with professors, small group classes, and real admission standards.” 2tor’s clever business model involves a tuition share with the participating universities. Details? Top-secret.

You can see the full 30 Under 30 – Education coverage on Forbes.com.

Also: Jeremy Johnson, 2U Co-Founder and President of Undergraduate Programs, Named to Forbes “30 Under 30” (News Release)

 

 

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDbizMedia

2tor Inc., a Landover firm that develops online graduate degree programs for universities, closed a $26 million financing round Monday.

The latest financing brings 2tor’s total venture funding to $96 million, a figure the company says puts it among the highest-funded education ventures in the country.

The Series D round was led by Tondern Capital, an affiliate of The Hillman Co. All of 2tor’s existing investors — Bessemer Venture Partners, Highland Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Novak Biddle Venture Partners and City Light Capital — participated in the round.

“Together with our university partners, we are creating a new standard in distance learning,” said Chip Paucek, co-founder and CEO of 2tor. “Our investors clearly embrace and share that vision. We are thrilled to have their support as we transform the online learning landscape.”

Talbott Simonds, managing director of Tondern Capital, said “2tor is leading a shift in the overall education market and changing the way great universities educate students.”

The $26 million will support the launch of new partnerships with universities.

2tor recently announced its fifth partnership, a Master of Public Administration program with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A sixth partnership will be announced this spring, the company said.

This spring has been a busy one for Maryland’s educational services companies. 2tor’s UNC partnership will spur hiring of 100 new employees at its Prince George’s County headquarters. And last week, Blackboard Inc. announced the acquisition of Moodlerooms, a Baltimore company that develops e-learning solutions for schools, colleges and other institutions.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDbizMedia

You may not know their name, but you know who they work for.

Tucked away in a quiet business park in White Marsh, Social Solutions is expanding its already considerable presence through software that allows nonprofits and government agencies to apply business world analytics to social assistance programs.

“Answering the question ‘How many people showed up?’ and whether or not they graduated doesn’t really tell the entire story as to whether you’re having an impact,” said Steve Butz, the company’s co-founder and chairman.

He would know.

Butz said he began chewing on the idea that would one day grow into Social Solutions in 1995. Both he and co-founder Adrian Bordone worked for social assistance organizations before they started Social Solutions. They taught adults how to read, helped them earn high school equivalency degrees and prepared them for jobs.

But as they moved up the rungs of different organizations, they were both struck by the lack of data coming out of and influencing those programs.

“Both of us ended up in these environments where our nonprofit experience was running up against this business sector validation,” said Bordone.

“I would go into local businesses and the healthcare community … and the level of question and diligence they would go through with me revealed all the gaps I had in my understanding,” he said. “What is the level of effort? What’s the individual look like who can be most successful? How are you going to take these individuals from where they are to where they need to be?”

So Butz and Bordone set out to answer those questions.

Friends since third grade —Youth’s Benefit Elementary School in Harford County — and both Navy veterans, they founded Social Solutions in July 2000.

They now have 105 employees, most of them in the modern, open offices in White Marsh. Their software is used by some 3,500 organizations in the United States and Canada.

The software, called Efforts to Outcomes, or ETO, allows organizations to monitor services provided to clients and progress toward goals like passing grades, job training certificates or jobs themselves.

Social Solutions has partnered with the Urban Institute and Child Trends to glean the best practices from different social assistance organizations to offer a blueprint to others.

ETO has also found its way into the federal government. The software was used to measure recovery efforts after Hurricane Ike in 2008 and is now in place to help combat Medicaid and Medicare fraud.

Butz and Bordone said they also see opportunities to install the software in state agencies that provide social services as well as to groups of organizations that overlap in the services they offer or the people they serve.

Wherever ETO goes, those behind it say it leads to more effective practices and practitioners.

“There was nothing that came back to say here’s the results of the work we did last week, last month, last year,” Bordone said of his experience at nonprofits. “You can’t get up and keep throwing your passion into a bucket and watch it float away.”