Startup Arlington winner brings his educational technology company to Northern Virginia
Erik Skantze has a passion for education. Together with his business partner, Will Morris, he founded the Richmond-based educational technology company that is the 2018 winner of Arlington Economic Development's Startup Arlington competition. EdConnective aims to impact students in highest-need areas throughout the nation by helping their teachers improve.
To accomplish this goal, EdConnective offers teachers what Skantze calls "high-dosage" coaching and leadership training by pairing them with a master educator whose background and experiences closely mirror their own. Teachers film themselves in the classroom and share these videos with their coach. The two meet via Zoom video conferencing so the coach can provide timely feedback. EdConnective's software helps ensure that the exchanges between teachers and coaches occur on a regular basis and that feedback is sustained, practice-based and tactical, which research has shown to be most effective. Teachers and coaches interact twice a week for six to eight weeks.
"Teachers and principals are some of the hardest-working people on the planet, and they don't always get the support they deserve," Skantze says. "At EdConnective, we're in the teacher's corner. A principal can go into a classroom and observe a person, and that's fine, but with coaching, you must do it frequently and the feedback must be immediate. We do this at EdConnective, and that's our differentiator."
Building a business
Skantze's partnership with EdConnective's Co-founder Will Morris came into being in 2015 while Skantze was getting his MBA at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He responded to a post on a school listserv from Morris, a student at the Graduate School of Education who was seeking someone to collaborate with him on his startup. Skantze had some test-prep tutoring experience and had always been interested in entrepreneurship and technology. His background proved to be a perfect match for Morris' expertise in education.
The company launched its first product, which provided intensive teacher coaching, in 2016. Over the past three years, they've partnered with a variety of schools, both public and private, and at various ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Currently, EdConnective's program is being used at the Gilman School, a private boys' prep school in Baltimore, as well as by the public school systems in Norfolk, Suffolk and Richmond, Va., where they're currently doing a pilot program. Overall, EdConnective's program is being implemented in seven states. They employ 70 master educators as coaches and hope to move toward coaching a school's entire staff. At some point, their product could have applications as a feedback mechanism in the corporate world, as well.
Often, Skantze says developing classroom management skills is as important as being able to teach academic material. Many teachers need help keeping students on task. They also want to enable their students to master content while providing a rigorous academic experience.
"We have seen so many teachers who are gifted and talented but struggling to keep the class under control or engage students," he says. "One teacher we worked with was ready to leave the profession. But she went through our program and said it was the most meaningful professional development experience of her life."
Rooted in Rosslyn
For the next four months, Skantze will be in Arlington to see if he can grow his business here. EdConnective competed against several other impressive startups to win the 2018 Startup Arlington competition. The prize was four months' free lodging, free office space, professional mentoring and concierge services to help Skantze get comfortable in the neighborhood. Skantze is living at the Marriott Residence Inn in Rosslyn and working at Spaces in downtown Rosslyn. He arrived here in January and has been here a little over a month.
The Rosslyn BID caught up with Skantze a few weeks ago at Spaces to see how he's been adjusting. Energetic and approachable, Skantze seems right at home in his new work environment. Dressed casually in a button-down checkered shirt and jeans, he asks if we want anything from the snack bar before ushering us over to a nearby table in one of Spaces' bright and open rooms that is buzzing with activity.
He's happy here, he says. He thinks Arlington is a good place to live and a good place for startups. And he likes Rosslyn because it's so convenient. It's easy for him to get into D.C. for meetings but it's also just a two-hour drive from EdConnective's home office in Richmond. His girlfriend, who recently finished her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University, lives in Baltimore and now commutes to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. Being here in Arlington makes it easier for him to see her, as well. So far, Skantze says he's done a bit of exploring along Wilson Blvd. He's tried the food at Heavy Seas and District Taco, which are both in Upper Rosslyn, and says he enjoyed them both. And he's gone out to Annandale for Korean food. He wants to know what restaurants and hotspots we locals recommend and, of course, we have no shortage of ideas. He listens eagerly and jots a few ideas in his notebook.
Originally from Upstate New York, Skantze has lived all over the world, including in Southeast Asia, Australia, Maryland, South Carolina and California.
"It's hard to find smaller cities that aren't super-homogenous," he says. "Albany, where I'm from, is a good example of that. It's homogenous. But Arlington is different. And that makes it appealing."
Skantze says he's trying to take advantage of Arlington as a technology hub.
"Technology is another passion of mine," he says. "I've been working on software for as long as I can remember. There are so many different startups here and so many meetups. I'm trying to get a sense of what's going on locally in all these areas."
“EdConnective is exactly the type of technology company that can truly succeed here in Arlington,” says Christina Winn, Arlington Economic Development’s Director of Business Investment. “The company is already working with a number of successful school systems and is specifically seeking the connections and resources available in Arlington and Northern Virginia to help it grow and succeed quickly. With those resources and those from other education technology companies who have found success here in Arlington, we look forward to working with EdConnective as our Startup Arlington winner.”
To learn more about EdConnective and their innovative programs, visit their website or check out the video they submitted to the Startup Arlington competition.
Erik Skantze of the Richmond-based EdConnective walks down Lynn Street in downtown Rosslyn on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. Arlington Economic Development's Startup Arlington winner, Skantze will be living and working in Rosslyn for the next four months.