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Thought Leaders in Online Education: Executive Director of Academic Innovation at University of Pennsylvania, Bobbi Kurshnan (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Feb 27th 2017

Bobbi Kurshan photo

UPenn has both an incubator for EdTech ventures, and an entrepreneurship education program for EdTech. This discussion delves into both programs and more.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to yourself as well as to UPenn’s online education activities.

Bobbi Kurshnan: I am the Executive Director of Academic Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. I run a variety of programs including all our online initiatives. I also run our incubator program for educational startups. That is both virtual as well as in-person. We just concluded our fourth and fifth cohorts this week. We also run the largest business competition for education entrepreneurs.

We also run a Master’s program in Entrepreneurship and Education. We’ve been doing a lot of work around online. I come from an online background. I’ve invested in large online companies. I ran and started an open source platform for K-12 curriculum.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start with several of your different areas of activities. Since we are on the incubator subject, let’s start by exploring what you see as trends in the kinds of businesses that you are seeing.

Bobbi Kurshnan: I’m seeing a variety of companies, but I think I’m seeing three of four trends that I’m interested in. One is I think we went through a phase where we were doing a lot of work around data and analytics, but we weren’t doing a very good job of helping to visualize those data to make those decisions with. I am very interested in some of the companies that are coming through in all phases of learning. What do these dashboards look like? How do you get teachers to use them? That is one area I’m interested in.

One of these companies is Zuckerberg-backed Panorama, which is in the data visualization business. I’m also seeing a lot of work around personalized learning and aggregating of content and using that data to make personalized learning paths. That’s a scenario that Zuckerberg has put a lot of money into. I’m very interested in the aggregation of content that has data behind it. I’m also very interested in the area of schools and online learning related to how you build virtual learning and creating schools. I see a lot of growth in those areas.

We are in the process of closing a very large platform to help entrepreneurs get their first angel funding. How do we get those people to Series A? They need that million or a million and a half after they leave an incubator. It’s very hard to raise that million. Most of them aren’t ready for primetime. Many of the shouldn’t be ready for primetime.

Sramana Mitra: What is the model of your incubator? Do you actually invest in these companies?

Bobbi Kurshnan: We do. We take equity and we invest. We provide a six-month program, in which they come five times to Philadelphia and work with us on an intense weekend where we bring in speakers.

Sramana Mitra: What is the amount of funding that you provide?

Bobbi Kurshnan: We provide $20,000 initially with access to another $50,000 to $100,000 at the end of the incubator.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Thought Leaders in Online Education: Executive Director of Academic Innovation at University of Pennsylvania, Bobbi Kurshnan
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