Education giant Pearson debuts the first class of its virtual ed tech startup accelerator

Pearson (s PSO), the U.K.-based educational publishing powerhouse, is getting ready to take its first class of ed tech startups under its wing. On Thursday, the company announced the inaugural class of its new accelerator program for ed tech startups, Pearson Catalyst.
In the past few months, plenty of other ed tech-only accelerators have opened their doors to startups, including Kaplan’s TechStars-powered program and Socratic Labs in New York. But Pearson’s program differs in a few key ways. For starters, it’s virtual, meaning that startups meet with mentors and receive training via video conference, telephone and email (its demo day is in-person). And, Pearson doesn’t take an equity stake in companies. Accepted startups get $10,000, support from Pearson executives in relevant areas and the opportunity to launch a pilot program with the publishing giant.
Instead of competing with other ed tech startup programs,┬áDiana Stepner, head of future technologies at Pearson, said the company sees its accelerator as complementary since it targets startups that are a little more established and already have a viable product. Socratic Labs, for example, is a partner, she said, adding that they’re working together to enable graduates from the New York incubator to move on to Pearson Catalyst.
Working with Pearson gives startups the chance to pilot their products and gain exposure among key customer groups — as well as build a relationship with the top ed tech acquirer. But it benefits Pearson too — the company gets a closer look at companies tackling issues that are critical to its business.
“Instead of recreating the wheel, we looked for startups that had a product to partner with instead of starting from ground zero,” said Stepner.

From a pool of more than 200, the company selected six for its first class. Here’s a quick look at the first startups in Pearson Catalyst’s class:
VLinks Media – The Chicago-based company enables educational publishers and corporate trainers to create interactive online classes for the web and mobile.
Spongelab — A science education site for teachers and students, it offers a library of digital content that focuses on game-based learning.
Ace Learning Company – The startup blends educational content with adaptive learning technology to help personalize education for college students.
ClassOwl — Created by Stanford undergrads, ClassOwl is a social academic platform made “by students, for students.”
ActivelyLearn — This Seattle startup offers an online e-reader that enables teachers to reach students inside the text they’re reading.
Full Stack Data Science — The startup specializes in natural language and text processing and can identify student cheating.
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