Ultimate Leadership Guide for Women In Edtech

Edtech, a portmanteau of “education technology,” is the practice of implementing IT tools to supplement and enhance classroom learning. Edtech is an important part of STEM education, giving students real-time interactions and practice using technology-based tools. Edtech isn’t only important for STEM; it would be difficult to educate today without it, particularly with rises we’ve seen in online and blended classrooms.

A Guide for Women Entrepreneurs in Edtech: Driving the Future of Female Leadership in Technology

Women looking at something on a bright desktop computer screen.

IT and tech fields have been traditionally largely male-dominated, however, women are starting to disrupt this trend in edtech. EdSurge found that 30% of education start-ups had at least one woman co-founder, which is nearly twice the percentage of women founders in other tech fields. This guide can help women who are interested in edtech find the right resources, both financial, educational, and organizational support to create a successful career.

Representation of Women In Technology Industries

According to CIO, 47% of all adults employed in the U.S. are women. However, only 25% of these women work in computing or tech industries. If this wasn’t enough to highlight the gender discrepancies in tech, Builtin reported that 48% of women in tech positions reported experiencing some sort of discrimination in the recruitment or hiring process. This type of discrimination, as well as other systemic problems like gendered pay discrepancies, can and have caused barriers to entry for women across STEM fields.

Getting into the industry isn’t the only barrier for women to overcome. According to Dreamhost, women experience higher job turnover than men — 41% to men’s 17% — and 56% of women are leaving tech jobs mid-career. However, there are ways that teachers, industry professionals, and even parents can help break gender barriers and set women up for STEM success.


How to Encourage Success Among Women and Girls

In order to attract more women into IT fields like edtech, exposure and understanding are crucial. Exposure both at home and in the classroom, can help build comfort and practical knowledge of edtech tools. Not only does this encourage skill-building, but it can foster an interest in STEM topics. This can manifest as after-school clubs, professional associations, classes, and even STEM-focused toys.

Creating an understanding of why edtech is important, and why women are an important part of it is another way to cultivate success in this field. Bringing women into the conversation, not just waiting for them to enter, it is important because of all the barriers to entry women can experience.


Notable Women Entrepreneurs In Edtech

Despite the challenges, women are still trailblazing with successful edtech start-ups and initiatives. Some notable female entrepreneurs and CEOs in the edtech space include:


    • Daphne Koller (Coursera): Daphne Koller is an Israeli-American computer scientist, and one of the founders of Coursera, an open online course provider that offers certifications and degree programs in tandem with universities. Daphne, with co-founder Andrew Ng, founded Coursera while she was in attendance at Stanford, and was the first-ever recipient of the ACM-Infosys Foundation Award in Computing Sciences.
    • Jen Medbery (Kickboard): Jen Medbery is the founder of Kickboard, and currently oversees product strategy for the company. She has a background in education and served as a teacher at one of New Orleans’ highest performing open-enrollment schools. Kickboard currently offers several programs to help schools create a successful environment, both educationally and culturally.
    • Reshma Saujani (Girls Who Code): Reshma Saujani is the founder of Girls Who Code, as well as a certified lawyer. She is one of the first Indian-Americans to run for Congress and founded Girls Who Code to close the gender gap she witnessed on her campaign tour. Girls Who Code works to help girls interested in STEM get meaningful job opportunities, and offers educational resources, support organizations, and summer camps.
    • Kimberly Bryant (Black Girls CODE): Kimberly Bryant is the founder and CEO of Balck Girls CODE, a nonprofit organization that introduces girls of color to technology, computer science, and entrepreneurship through educational courses. Kimberly Bryant is an electrical engineer who has also worked in biotechnology before founding Black Girls CODE.

Edtech Start-Up Ideas for Women Entrepreneurs

Unique start-up ideas can be hard to come up with. You’ll want to make sure that your idea is not only something that you’re passionate about, but something that addresses a real problem. Inspiration can come from the personal experience of you or a loved one, outside observation, or from something you wish existed.


Financial Resources for Funding An Edtech Startup

How much capital you’ll need to start out will also heavily depend on what you’re trying to do and how. You can expect some fixed costs, such as legally registering your business. There are several ways you can go about funding your edtech business. Each way offers unique benefits and challenges. Finding the right way to fund your startup will depend on your priorities as a business owner, as well as your current situation and needs.


Seeking Investors

Investors can be a lucrative way to fund your start-up, and edtech is a particularly attractive industry. In 2020, edtech raised $2.2 billion in venture and private capital. It’s important to note that investors can be incredible partners, however, they will own shares of your business. This means that you, as the founder, won’t have complete control over business decisions. Further, investors can also opt to sell their shares to other investors, or other people, without your consent. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have mutually beneficial partnerships with investors, though. There are many different types of investors, including:


    • Small business investors: Small business investors are investors who don’t typically provide all the capital for a start-up venture, but help get it off its feet. These can be groups or individuals.
    •  Angel investors: Angel investors are individuals who typically fund all, or most, of a start-up. They do this typically to see a high return on their investment, and may expect a quicker profit turnaround.
    • Partner financing: Partner financing is an agreement, typically between two people who are funding the business themselves, about the financial decisions of the business. Partners can be co-founders, or unrelated to the initial business idea.
    • Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding has become an increasingly popular source of funding for products. Websites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter have gained popularity. While these can be efficient, there is no guarantee that funding goals will be met, and you can have thousands of investors, which can pose challenges. Each site will have a breakdown of how their process works when you sign up.

Business Loans

Loans are another option for funding your startup. These can give you full control over your business decisions, though you may have to jump through more hoops to get approved, as well as commit to paying off the loan and interest. There are several different loan types that you can file for as a startup, including:


    • Small business loans: There are several small business loans available for women. Each loan will have varying eligibility requirements.
    • Business line of credit: This is a type of small business loan that provides flexibility that other loans don’t. Business lines of credit work like a credit card, but typically have much higher limits than average credit cards, upwards of $100,000 in some cases.
    • Microloans: A microloan is a small amount of money loaned to new businesses. This loan is categorized as anything $50,000 or less, and is typically used for new equipment purchases, or other smaller, one-time expenses.
    • Working capital loans: Working capital loans are similar to microloans, and are typically used for immediate or one-time expenses. It’s common for these loans to be taken during the off-season to pay things like rent, then paid back during the busy season.
    • Peer-to-peer lending: Peer-to-peer lending allows start-ups to get loans directly from other individuals, without needing to go through a financial institution. This can be ideal for business owners who aren’t likely to get approved for a loan from a bank, but has an individual who is willing to loan them money. Terms for these loans will vary based on the situation, but are still legally binding.

Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs)

Community Development Finance Institutions are private lenders that offer loans to low-income and disadvantaged communities. CDFIs offer four funding types:


    • Community Development Banks;
    • Community Development Credit Unions;
    • Community Development Loan Funds;
    • Community Development Venture Capital Funds.

Those looking to fund an edtech startup may benefit most from venture capital or loan funds, as these two funds are specifically designed to help grow and develop businesses, services, and organizations of small to medium size. You can find application requirements and application forms on the CDFI website.


Grants and Edtech Innovation Funds

There are several grant opportunities, particularly for women in edtech. Innovation funds are another source of grant funding. These private institutions offer grant funding for individuals and organizations that are solving problems in new and innovative ways. This makes them especially suited for edtech start-ups, as innovation is a core pillar of the industry. Here are some innovation funds and grants for women in edtech:


Networking with Others In Edtech

Networking is an important part of being a business professional, but it can be especially important for women in technology fields. Building a professional network can not only help connect you with new opportunities, but it can also build a professional support group with shared experiences. These female-led networking groups have been known to inspire creativity, help solve problems, and discuss women-specific issues, such as pay disparities. Industry events, like conferences and trade shows, can help connect you to the right people in your industry.


Conferences and Trade Shows

Several conferences and trade shows have been designed to benefit and attract more women to IT and Edtech fields. These conferences and trade shows are great opportunities for professional enrichment, networking, and even meeting with potential partners or investors. Some of these meetings include:


Attending Trade Shows As a Business

Having a booth at a trade show can also provide career enrichment opportunities for women in edtech. Booths can help you network and attract quality traffic to your start-up, which may convert to leads or clients. A successful trade show booth should both be visually appealing, as well as provide quality information about your business. include:


    • Attention-grabbing signage: Your trade show signs should be interesting and engaging. They should encapsulate your brand, and tie in seamlessly with your other products. Make sure booth visitors are able to clearly identify your brand name and logo, as well as find bright and detailed images of your product.
    • Display boxes: With display boxes, you can highlight your product safely without having to constantly supervise it. Having display boxes may also help attract interest and traffic to your booth.
    • Display pedestals: Display pedestals can be a good option for products that are interactive. Having interactive products at your booth can help draw more traffic, as well as illustrate what your product or service does. This might look like a tablet or computer where trade show attendees can trial your program.


Organizations Supporting Women In the Technology Industries

Outside of personal networking, there are professional organizations that encourage female entrepreneurs and girls to pursue careers in edtech and STEM. They do this by providing support, mentorship, and educational resources to women and girls in tech. Some of these organizations include:


    • Ada’s List: Ada’s list is an email list for anyone who identifies as a female who works in STEM. This email list is designed to help share job opportunities, events, and promote networking among women in tech.
    • Change Catalyst: This group is specifically designed to support diversity in tech fields. Women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ members, and individuals with disabilities can find support, resources for job opportunities and development, webinars, and other services through change catalyst.
    • Anita Borg Institute: The Anita Borg Institute, and its sister project Systers, is a nonprofit organization and is one of the largest email chains for women in tech. It is a global organization that offers support and resources to women in computing and IT.
    • Girl Develop It: Girl Develop It is a nonprofit organization that offers reduced-rate software development courses for anyone who identifies as female. It is a national chapter with over 60 locations. You can find a location, or request a new chapter on their website.
    • Project Include: Project Include is an organization working to reform corporate diversity initiatives in the tech and STEM space in order to create space for women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and individuals with disabilities. Their tenants encompass inclusion, comprehensiveness, and accountability, and you can read more about their work on their site.


Additional Edtech Resources

Women and girls interested in edtech may also benefit from the following resources:


    • Edtech hackathons: These hackathons can help sharpen your skills as well as meet others in your field. These events may also come with prizes, such as cash or publication, which can help you further your goals. The Interdisciplinary Programme in Educational Technology holds an online Hackathon for people from different disciples in IT and STEM.
    • Local EdTech meetups: These meetups can be professionally led, or held by hobbyists interested in exploring edtech. You can find meetups in your local area through social media or professional networks. These groups can be a great place to build social bonds, brainstorm, and gather a better understanding of your local EdTech community.
    • EdCamps: EdCamps, such as the ones held by Digital Promise, are another great place to meet other professionals in your area, and revisit your skills, particularly for educators using or developing edtech tools.
    • Edtech blogs: These sites can be a great place for educators and aspiring professionals to gain more understanding about the industry, including new tools, standards, and other areas of interest. Edtech magazine has compiled a list of some of the best k-12 edtech blogs.