Hundreds of startups are vying to reinvent education, competing with tech titans such as Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft in order to win the $12 billion K-12 U.S. education market.
Nearpod enables K-12 teachers to create, find and distribute lesson plans to students on any digital device. The company launched in 2012, and after many years of operating in stealth mode, selected VSC in late 2015 to build awareness in schools and within the greater technology landscape.
At a time when the market boasted several other online education and digital learning companies, our goal was to differentiate Nearpod from the competition and drive sales.
VSC advised Nearpod on a fairly common, but substantial challenge where the media’s conversation around mobile technology in schools was far ahead of on-the-ground school adoption. Despite interesting work being done by Nearpod in the classroom, VSC determined the edtech company should not try to focus on mobile apps, which media considered old-hat, but instead direct the conversation along a new axis.
In our due diligence, we discovered experimental work being pursued in virtual reality, which had largely remained hidden from the public. Given recent developments with high-profile companies in VR such as Oculus Rift, VSC identified an opportunity to not only capitalize on the heightened attention paid to virtual reality, but also push the edtech conversation in a new direction. As such, VSC advised Nearpod to lead with this experimental VR work and scale it in such a way to help the company gain media interest and create a new entry point for its broader mobile application offerings.
To ensure Nearpod’s VR education story was more substance than fantasy, VSC relaunched the VR product and advised the company to develop VR education grants, gifting more than $100,000 worth of content, headsets, training and other resources to 50 schools. We also developed messaging around the power of virtual reality to energize education RIGHT NOW with powerful software and low-cost hardware.
Nearpod sourced low-cost VR viewers in order to emphasize the accessibility of the product to any school, as compared to other cost-prohibitive solutions such as Oculus Rift. With the VR education grants and the low-cost VR viewers, VSC helped Nearpod put the “reality” in virtual reality in classrooms across the U.S.
VSC understood that the imaginative and visionary nature of Nearpod’s VR-in-the-classroom narrative would require a top-tier feature story that could fully capture the different ways the company is innovating. As such, VSC secured a Wall Street Journal feature story about VR in classrooms, with Nearpod as the featured company.
From the Wall Street Journal:
“Nearpod Inc., a startup that makes education software used in 10,000 schools across the U.S., is launching virtual-reality lessons on Thursday. Here’s their pitch: instead of requiring schools to invest heavily in headsets and other hardware, Nearpod’s approach relies on students using their own devices or district-supplied electronics.
Students already use tablets and netbooks in the classroom, to share text, record and watch videos, and conduct research. Virtual reality – the technology that lets people experience immersive, 360-degree images – would take technology in the classroom to the next level.
Virtual-reality proponents argue students engage more with a lesson when it is interactive, such as virtual “field trips” to far places.”
While the WSJ feature would set the vision and tone for the rest of the campaign, VSC planned for immediate follow-on coverage that could demonstrate how other schools can join the VR education revolution.
We secured a feature in Fortune, using two school districts as case studies for how schools could replicate or adopt VR programming in their own classrooms.
Additionally, VSC secured regional print and broadcast features on the teachers who received Nearpod grants, reaching new audiences of teachers and students. Sample features include: The Sun in San Bernardino, Bay Area News 9 in Orlando, Florida, Fox 32 in Chicago and News Press in Cape Coral, Florida. Beyond showcasing how teachers were using the technology, we strategically selected and worked with notable education influencers like Teachers with Apps and Instructional Tech Talk to review the Nearpod VR classroom experience.
In the first six months of our engagement, the earned media campaign reached 36 million people, including decision makers in local schools, technology partners and venture capitalists.
Since our partnership kicked off in late 2015, Nearpod has expanded to 1 in 10 US schools, and raised $30M from key investors Insight Venture Partners, Reach Capital, Storm Ventures, Marc Benioff and more. Beyond that, Nearpod successfully reached more than 6 million students through its virtual reality program and separated from other edtech startups through its innovative products, controversial opinions on education technology and regional press.