Phil Cutler is bullish on Montreal’s future as an educational technology hub. He thinks a “revolution” is coming in edtech, saying Montreal’s growth over the past 16 months within this space has planted the roots for a healthy future.
Just this week, Cutler’s GradeSlam and the internationally-known Founder Institute accelerator program together announced the MTL Edtech Fellowship, essentially a US $3,000 grant that pays for one Montreal-based edtech company to attend Founder Institute Montreal. It’s worth mentioning that Founder Institute takes equity in teams, but the program now possesses a strong track-record in preparing startups for selection at some of the best accelerator programs in North America.
“There is momentum and support behind this and we need to give those entrepreneurs the tools to succeed,” Cutler told MTLinTECH. “GradeSlam relied heavily on the Montreal startup ecosystem in our early days. Now it’s our chance to give back and create the next generation of edtech entrepreneurs. Rising tides raises all boats: the more we have that the better its going to be.”
Founder Institute Montreal managing director Sergio Escobar helped guide GradeSlam through the Techstars Startup Next pre-accelerator.
“I saw Phil’s passion and devotion working countless hours. It’s contagious and he’s solving a real problem,” said Escobar. “Through this edtech fellowship we want to inspire, identify, train and launch new edtech businesses. It’s good for business, but more importantly, it’s good for the society.”
Founded in 2014, GradeSlam is an educational technology company that powers “personalized learning” in schools.
According to Cutler, the new MTL Edtech Fellowship grant came about after several factors contributed to the city’s growth over the past year. GradeSlam raised nearly $2.5 million in funding, grants and awards in 2016, while Oohlala, a startup that develops mobile apps for universities with the goal of improving student retention and graduation rates, raised $5.3 million in series A money in January.
Cutler also lauded the success his own MTL EdTech presented by GradeSlam meetup, which has been gathering anywhere from 25 to 100 guests every month. Finally, at McGill University’s Dobson Cup competition this year, about at least 15 edtech student startups pitched.
To become a “hub” in anything requires much more overall success than what Montreal has experienced in edtech. Cutler told MTLinTECH that, like many industries in technology, the city still needs a couple big players to “catalyze the industry.”
Outside investment tends to follow the success of the big players, just liked we’ve seen in Montreal within the field of artificial intelligence and deep learning. But Cutler warned that the city still needs more collaboration within the ecosystem, calling it “fragmented.” Still, he hopes one day to see a major international edtech conference call Montreal home.
But perhaps the new MTL Edtech Fellowship grant can serve as a stepping stone for Cutler’s big dreams. The CEO said there’s too many favourable factors at play, including the city’s four top universities constantly churning out intelligent grads.
“For a long time edtech has seemed like this academic, very bland industry, but that’s changing quickly,” said Cutler. “The new possibilities in machine learning and AI innovation are very applicable here. There’s a lot of very cool, advanced stuff that’s happening. I’ve met a number of young edtech entrepreneurs and their ideas a really innovative – we’re talking really cool stuff that I’m quite bullish on. We have an opportunity right now.”
As for the future of learning, it’s another subject Cutler could discuss at length. Given his company’s success in the United States with its “personalized learning” approach for students, the CEO believes a revolution within the educational system is coming.
“It’s going to happen, it’s going to be painful and there’s going to be changes in the educational system. This stuff (like personalized learning) is coming, whether we like it or not. And I think its really exciting to be a part of a community that’s fostering these ideas. It’s going to be an exciting few years.”