Friday, November 30, 2007

Venture Capitalist Sees Growing Investment Opportunities In Serious Games

What makes Serious Games attractive to investors


As anticipated on my prior posts focused on Serious Games Market Size, funding has started to become available from foundations, governmental agencies, non-profits and venture capitalists.

The following article by Richard Carey, offers a unique opportunity to get a venture capitalist perspective on investing in the educational technology market, including educational games and simulations.

A VC’s Perspective on EdTech Investment - Published November 29th, 2007

The SIIA’s annual Ed Tech Business Forum, the leading business and finance conference for the K-12 and post secondary education technology market, attracts senior management from education software companies, platform technology firms, solution providers, publishers, private equity firms and venture capitalists.

The keynote speaker for this years conference was John Martinson, Managing Partner of the Edison Venture Fund. With 31 years of venture capital experience, including 8 investments for Edison from $3-10M and 12 investments from $250K-12M as an individual, Martinson has significant experience and a unique perspective on investing in the educational technology market.

In his presentation, Martinson provided a candid appraisal of what makes educational technology attractive to investors, as well as its unique challenges.

He also shared his “tired or wired” list, highlighting emerging segments of the market — invaluable insight for anyone managing an educational technology portfolio or investing in new products for this market.

K-12 Software is a Sizable Niche Market

Among his obserations: K-12 software is a sizable niche market with 55M students, 125K schools and 12K districts.

There’s tremendous public pressure to improve student performance, reduce costs and improve productivity.

It’s a market of passionate entrepreneurs, a market with a high SAS (software as a service) renewal rates. Equally important, if somewhat below the radar of many departments of education and school boards who make purchasing decisions, today’s students are digital natives as are many of their parents, so the demand for educational technology will only increase.

On the downside, there’s a long tradition that schools pay for hardware and expect software and services to be free. Add to that regulations that differ by state, a long (and seasonal) sales cycle, decision making by committee, and disbursed sales (12 thousand districts, 125 thousand schools) and the challenges become clear.

Growing Investment Opportunities

In spite of these negatives, Martinson sees growing investment opportunities on several fronts, including instruction management (learning management systems), data management (assessment reporting and analytics to drive individualized instruction), portals and communication systems, special education (see individualized instruction), online schools and courses (distance learning), educational games and simulations -- "Serious Games”, and in mobile computing devices.

Martinson is particularly bullish on the post-secondary market. Despite being much smaller than K-12, the technology infrastructure is more robust, there are fewer cumbersome regulations, there are business-like initiatives to increase revenues and lower costs, and decisions are more timely compared with those made by state and local school committees.

In a nutshell, while educational technology remains unarguably a niche market with unique challenges, Martinson feels the need for applied technologies, rapid acceptance of web-delivered software as a service, recurring revenue business models, and pent-up demand from years of restrained investment in K-12 point to increased opportunity for investors, publishers and product developers.