It’s the most wonderful time of the year… We all know the now-famous office supplies advertisement where parents get their kids ready for the end of summer and return to school with a joy previously reserved for all-you-can-eat ice cream and karaoke. 

Going back to school in September, once an isolated family and school ritual, rapidly became a massive opportunity for companies to appeal to a particular market segment. The same holds true for startups in the education innovation space.

For teachers

For edupreneurs, back to school actually is the most wonderful time of the yearSince it’s not only students who return to school in the fall, but teachers as well, many edupreneurs focus on these end users. Planboard, for example, is a product that helps teachers to quickly plan curriculum-aligned lessons and to organize them by their school schedules. Planning online with Planboard allows teachers to share and collaborate on resources without having to step outside the planning and teaching process, which is a welcome time-saver for busy educators.

Suraj Srinivas, the company’s founder and CEO, shares his thoughts on this most wonderful time of the year: “Back to school means a massive spike in interest from teachers around the world as they start to evaluate the new innovations they will bring into the classroom for the new year,” he says.

“From an operations perspective, it’s the time of the year where we allocate more resources to support and training activities. It’s also the time of the year when we learn how well our marketing campaigns are working in increasing grassroots adoption.”

For students

Given that students in many parts of the world return to school in the late summer, it makes perfect sense to connect them to something wider than their own classroom experience. WorldVUZE is a free online platform for kindergarten to Grade 12 education where students can share and explore multiple perspectives on any topic with other students around the world in real time. Student perspectives from around the world can be clustered geographically so that students can compare perspectives within and between places (city to city, region to region, country to country), broadening their view of the world, deepening their understanding and bringing relevance to what they’re learning.

Julia Coburn, the founder of WorldVUZE, can’t wait for school to begin. “This fall we will be launching our pilot with over 1,000 students from 10 countries. We are looking to continue to receive feedback from teachers, students and administrators from diverse learning environments to make our platform better,” she says. “In January 2014 we are excited to be able to launch WorldVUZE for any teacher and their students to use, anywhere in the world!”

For community engagement

Part of heading back to school in Ontario, and in many other regions in Canada and internationally, is the students’ commitment to complete community service hours. Charity Republic is a startup that promotes community engagement through simple and efficient tracking solutions to help students and volunteers track their volunteer hours and activities.

Popy Dimoulas-Graham, Charity Republic’s founder, says: “With students back in school this September, we’re excited to implement our mission to promote lifelong volunteerism among youth, connecting students to meaningful volunteer opportunities in their local communities in partnership with charities across the country.”

And for those who aren’t going back to school…

We mustn’t forget that heading back to school isn’t always about heading back to school. Raise Your Flag is a local startup that helps students who are not going to university or college to find a career that they love and to make a career plan and set it in motion. This is a rapidly emerging space in the education innovation ecosystem; the challenge of bridging formal education with the world of work is one desperately in need of more and better solutions.

For nearly half of the high school seniors in North America going back to school is seriously intimidating. Knowing that they are only 10 months away from needing an answer to the question “What will I actually DO with the rest my life?” can be overwhelming.

Ryan Porter, the CEO of Raise Your Flag, takes a crisp position: “Guidance departments and existing education planning software are great at helping university and college-bound students to find a post-secondary path, but struggle to offer real guidance for the school-to-work transition,” he explains. For Raise Your Flag, “back to school means a chance to help work-bound students approach the school year with excitement, anticipation and, most importantly, purpose.”

Ah, purpose-driven edupreneurs and startups, maybe this IS the most wonderful time of the year.

Photo credit: They’re back by Kaytee Riek CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Aron Solomon

Aron was the Innovation Lead for the LegalX cluster and Senior Advisor for education technology at MaRS. See more…