Technology industry

Iowa City’s edtech industry accelerates during pandemic thanks to online learning boom

IOWA CITY — In a matter of weeks last March, Riley Eynon-Lynch saw usage of her company’s products increase by 1,000 percent.

“We have an incredible technical team that could scale our infrastructure very quickly, and then incredible sales and marketing teams that run 10 trainings a day,” said Eynon-Lynch, CEO and one of the four co-founders of Pear Deck. , an education technology company in Iowa City.

One of Pear Deck’s professional development events attracted 40,000 teachers. The daily training sessions had 1,000 teachers as spectators.

It’s part of the accelerated growth of the Iowa City-based education technology industry since the onset of the coronavirus.

“It’s become a bigger part of education for a lot of teachers and schools,” Eynon-Lynch said.

A 2019 report commissioned by the Iowa Economic Development Authority estimated the size of the global information technology market at $57 billion. Now it is expected to reach $1 trillion over the next eight years.

“It’s exploded because of the online learning that’s happening,” said Kate Moreland, president of the Iowa City Area Development Group.

“We’re going to see a lot of product as a result of this period. …

We think now is the perfect time to help get our share of that market and plant our flag in Iowa around it.

The best-case scenario over the next five to 10 years, Moreland told The Gazette, would be for the Iowa City area to be “recognized nationally and internationally as a place where learning advances.”

Adam Keune, co-founder of Coralville-based Higher Learning Technologies, predicts education technology will also fill a void for adult education as the needs of Iowa’s workforce change. .

“There are going to be a lot of people who are going to have to be retrained in a lot of industries,” Keune said.

“That’s just the reality we live in.”

The Iowa City area already has a myriad of educational technology companies. Testing giant ACT, founded in 1959 in Iowa City, is the region’s oldest company.

Leepfrog Technologies, which provides course catalog services and other software to hundreds of universities, began in 1994.

Although Pearson and McGraw-Hill are not headquartered in Iowa City, they each also have a significant footprint in the Iowa City area.

The 2019 IEDA report lists the presence of ACT and other existing edtech companies as an advantage as the state builds its own tech footprint in education.

Eynon-Lynch sees other educational technologies in the region as a benefit to the workforce as well.

“There are employees who are already familiar with the space, and even if they are looking to change from their current job, they can stay in Iowa City,” he said.

The University of Iowa has helped the region attract education technology companies. Adam Keune, the co-founder of Higher Learning Technologies, said working with nearby schools — both at the college and K-12 level — has given HLT a “sandbox” for new products.

“A good example is when we started with our nursing product,” Keune recalled in a virtual panel hosted by ICAD on Thursday. “All of our products are free to University of Iowa students.”

This way he can hear feedback from students and teachers.

Debi Durham, director of IEDA and the Iowa Finance Authority, said she has been talking with the state Department of Education to pursue this opportunity further.

“We need more cooperation from our education department,” Durham told The Gazette last month.

“We need to be able to work with them to proactively resolve issues, but more importantly, to test some of these things. …

They need to be a partner on this and they need to understand that all eyes could be on Iowa for this business.

Iowa isn’t alone in trying to become a center for ed-tech.

The IEDA report lists Chicago, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Madison, Wisconsin as other places monitoring this industry.

Durham said ed-tech first caught his eye during a 2017 conversation with the former ICAD chairman and former ACT chief executive.

The Iowa EdTech Collaborative, a partnership between ICAD, IEDA, the New Bohemian Collaborative and other organizations, has worked to fund more ed-tech start-ups in Iowa.

Eynon-Lynch credited support from ICAD and other groups for making the Iowa City area a suitable home for Pear Deck in early 2014.

“We didn’t move here for those reasons, but those were the things that made it feel like a good place to start a business,” he recalls.

Pear Deck merged with Los Angeles-based GoGuardian in November, but Eynon-Lynch said the company plans to keep all of Pear Deck’s operations in Iowa City.

While the shift to remote learning has forced many schools to adopt more education technology, Eynon-Lynch is confident that schools will continue to use Pear Deck’s platform even when schools are fully reopened. .

“Pear Deck really helps teachers make sure they’re reaching every student, every day,” Eynon-Lynch said.

“We believe this will be a value that will persist, even when COVID is over.”

He’s seen it before with schools that have resumed in-person instruction.

“Their use of Pear Deck increased early in the outbreak, but did not decrease when they returned to school,” Eynon-Lynch said.

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“Pear Deck really helps teachers make sure they’re reaching every student, every day,” said Pear Deck CEO Riley Eynon-Lynch, seen here in his office in Iowa City in 2015. (The Gazette)

Regarding ed-tech, Debi Durham, executive director of the Iowa Finance Authority, said, “We need more cooperation from our education department. We need to be able to work with them to proactively fix issues, but more importantly, to test some of these things. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Kate Moreland ICAD Group

The global ed-tech market is expected to reach $1 trillion over the next eight years. Above is a class at Waverly-Shell Rock Middle School in Waverly. (The Gazette)