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This post first appeared on aud.life

Earlier this week, Edsurge announced a new revenue stream, “A Personal Concierge to Connect Edtech Companies and School Leaders.” I’ve heard rumors that this was coming from several startups who were concerned that this was “pay to play” and that if they wanted to “play” in the already challenging world of ed-tech procurement that they were going to have to now “pay” Edsurge.

Here’s how Edsurge describes the service working:

Using [Edsurge] resources, the Concierge team identifies tools that are potential fits for each school’s unique needs. Because the questions we ask at the outset are detailed, the resulting lists are different every time.


How can schools – and companies – safely turn these prospect lists into productive conversations with the best partners, without wasting time and resources on dead-end discussions? That’s where EdSurge helps both sides prioritize. We redact the name of the school involved – and share out our description of the “need” with the 10 to 15 companies that best fit the school needs. Some companies are ready to proceed; others may choose to stand down if the opportunity and their products don’t quite align. All companies are invited to write a short proposal – including demos, estimated pricing and a more specific description of how the tool supports the need – based on the anonymized descriptions. We then bundle up the lists and proposals and ship them over to the school administrators.


Those school administrators then review the list and the submitted proposals. We ask them to give us feedback on whether the proposals fit their needs. And they agree to continue the conversation with at least one organization.


What Does It Cost?


There’s no financial cost to educators for going through the diagnostic of needs –but there is a real commitment of time. Educators invest their time to:


Consider the instructional issue they want to address in collaboration with their peers; Evaluate the companies’ responses; Follow up with the most promising product(s).


In turn, there’s no cost for any company to be included on the initial list of 10 to 15 suggestions. Any relevant product – whether it’s on the EdSurge index or not – may be a candidate to fill a school need. We do ask companies that want to create a more detailed proposal to pay an appropriate fee if they choose to submit a tailored response. And if they win a contract, they agree to pay a referral fee as well. [emphasis mine]

tl;dr – startups can pay Edsurge to introduce them to school districts. Edsurge will take a cut of signed contracts.

It’s an interesting move – particularly as Edsurge and other industry folks have repeated lately how flawed they feel the school procurement process is. But it’s one that I think raises a lot of ethical questions. Edsurge is already in a tricky position when it comes to journalistic ethics as it shares investors with many of the ed-tech startups that it covers. It is pretty inconsistent about disclosing that in stories. (For what it’s worth the company has raised $2.9 million in funding from Women’s Venture Capital Fund, Dale Dougherty (of MAKE Magazine), Catamount Ventures, Steve Blank, ImagineK12, Lynda Weinman (founder of Lynda.com), GSV Capital, NewSchools Venture Fund, John Katzman (founder of 2U, the Princeton Review, and Noodle), Learn Capital, The Washington Post Company (owner of the for-profit Kaplan), Allen & Company, Judy Estrin, Gillian Munson, Kelly Pope and David Bulfer, Joe Gleberman, George Anders, Bud Colligan, Jennifer Fonstad and Martha Ehmann Conte, Imagine K12, Alan Louie, Tim Ranzetta, and Nancy Peretsman.)

I can’t help but think too about the concerns raised earlier this year about another prominent ed-tech investor Deborah Quazzo who sits on the Chicago Public Schools board. After she joined the board, the district’s spending on products she’s invested in tripled.

My initial questions:

  • Will districts know which companies have paid to be placed on a list of recommended products/services?
  • Will companies be informed that their competitors are paying to be placed on a list of recommended products/services?
  • Will companies who pay Edsurge for this introduction receive other perks? Will companies who decline to pay Edsurge see any repercussions?
  • As Edsurge will take a cut of the contracts, are there other ways in which this will influence editorial decisions? Will Edsurge disclose in its articles when it covers companies that are paying for this service?
  • Who gets the data that districts share with Edsurge? Investors? Their portfolio companies?

(No time to write a long post about this yet… Just making sure I’m putting my thoughts down on paper…)

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Audrey Watters


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