IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

ED/IES SBIR: Highlights from 2022 & Announcing the New 2023 Program

The Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), which IES administers, funds the research, development, and evaluation of new, commercially viable education technology products. Known as ED/IES SBIR, the program’s goal is to grow a portfolio of products that are research-based and ready to be widely deployed to address pressing educational needs.

Over the past decade, the program has become known for investing in new entrepreneurial innovations, such as products by Future Engineers and Schell Games, as well as for supporting the transfer of evidence-based research into products that can be used in practice at scale, such as projects by Learning Ovations and Analytic Measures.

ED/IES SBIR: A Look Back at 2022

ED/IES SBIR products were used by millions of students, educators, and administrators to support remote and in-person learning.  Many companies, including MidSchoolMath, Education Modified, Sirius Thinking with partner Success For All, and PocketLab, earned new district contracts and licensing agreements to adopt their technologies at scale. Many companies also won industry awards for innovations on the basis of their ED/IES SBIR products.

With its 2022 awards, ED/IES SBIR continued to invest in emerging areas of education technology, funding projects that use artificial intelligence to personalize learning and generate real-time insights for educators to inform instruction, facilitate real-world learning, and support integrating arts in education and learning. Also in 2022, ED/IES SBIR launched a new “Direct to Phase II” program to support the scale up of existing evidence-based researcher developed innovations through the development of new education technology products. One award was made through this program.

Checkout the IES/ED SBIR News Archive for more information about our 2022 highlights.

ED/IES SBIR Releases Three 2023 Program Solicitations

On January 12, 2023, ED/IES SBIR released three solicitations, requesting proposals for Phase IA, Phase IB, or Direct to Phase II projects. The submission deadline for all three solicitations is March 13, 2023. The URL links to each solicitation on SAM.gov can be found on this page.

This year’s Phase I program introduces a new, two-track approach to stimulating innovation and research.

  • A “Phase IA” solicitation requests proposals for projects to develop a prototype of an entirely new education technology product, where no previous technological development has occurred. The goal of the Phase IA track is to stimulate novel approaches to solve pressing problems in education.
  • A “Phase IB” solicitation requests proposals for projects to develop a prototype of a new component to be added to an existing education technology prototype or product. The goal of the Phase IB track is to strengthen existing research-based prototypes or products in addressing pressing problems in education. Offerors interested in submitting a proposal for Phase IB must demonstrate that the existing prototype or product is research-based and that an additional investment in a new component to be integrated with what already exists is warranted. All Phase IA and IB proposals are for projects lasting 8 months for $250,000. All successful 2023 Phase I awardees will be eligible to submit a Phase II proposal in 2024 for $1M for full-scale development and evaluation.

A “Direct to Phase II” solicitation requests proposals for 2-year projects for $1,000,000 for the full-scale R&D and evaluation of new education technology products to ready existing evidence-based innovations (products, programs, or practices) for use at scale in education settings, and to plan for commercialization.  The existing education innovation is required to have originally been created by researchers at either universities (or other academic institutions) or non-profit education research organizations. Proposals must be submitted by a for-profit small business per the eligibility requirements of the SBIR program.


Stay tuned for updates on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn as IES continues to support innovative technology and research.

Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov) is a research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

The ED/IES SBIR 2021 Year in Review and a Look Ahead to 2022

The Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), administered by IES, provides awards for the research and development of new, commercially viable education technology products. Known as ED/IES SBIR, the program’s goal is to grow a portfolio of scalable, research-based products that address pressing needs across topic areas in education and special education.

From an education technology perspective, 2021 will surely be remembered as the “year after” the onset of the global pandemic—where demand for effective education tools and platforms skyrocketed and developers pivoted to meet the needs of the return to in-person and hybrid learning environments. Dozens of ED/IES SBIR-developers contributed to these efforts, with millions of students and educators using their products to support remote and in-person learning in 2021. This blog shares some highlights from the ED/IES SBIR program in 2021 and provides a preview of its recently released 2022 solicitations.

The ED Games Expo

IES hosted the 8th annual ED Games Expo virtually in June 2021 to provide resources to the public in response to pandemic-related challenges. As part of the virtual Expo, 170 IES- and government-supported education technology products were available at no cost to educators and students around the country. The Expo also presented 35 virtual events for the public that have been viewed more than 10,000 times on YouTube, highlighted by a Kick Off Show introduced by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and including master classes for educators and behind-the-sciences “how to” events for students. Dates for the next ED Games Expo will be announced soon.

New ED/IES SBIR Awards

ED/IES SBIR announced 29 new 2021 awards, including 18 for prototype development and 11 for full-scale education technology product development. The awards continue trends from recent years.

One exciting trend is the employment of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, or algorithms to personalize student learning. Examples include projects by Myriad Sensors (Pocket Lab) to develop an AI engine to assess and provide feedback to students while doing physical science experiments, Analytic Measures Inc. (AMI) to create an natural language processing engine to recommend personalized practice activities based on a student’s level of oral reading fluency, and by KooApps and Kings Peak Technology to use machine learning to provide immediate vocabulary support to English learners.

Another trend in 2021 is the development of new products to scale existing IES-funded research. Projects that build on prior IES research include: Nimble Hiring to develop a platform to improve school district hiring and educator retention, xSEL Labs to create a platform for social and behavioral learning innovations, and Emberex to create a user interface with reporting and recommendation features to meet modern standards for a reading assessment.

ED/IES SBIR also continues to support projects in new areas. For example, three new projects are developing music-based technologies to support learning (Muzology, Edify, and Lyrics to Learn).

Highlights From Individual Projects in the Portfolio

Many ED/IES SBIR-supported companies enjoyed newsworthy successes in 2021.

ED/IES SBIR Releases Two 2022 Program Solicitations

On December 1, 2021, ED/IES SBIR released two new solicitations. Phase I solicitation #91990022R0001 is a request for proposals for $250,000 awards for 8 months for the research, development, and evaluation of new prototypes of education and special education technology products. Direct to Phase II solicitation #91990022R0002 is a request for proposals for $1,000,000 for 2 years for R&D and evaluation to develop new technology to prepare existing researcher-developed evidence-based innovations (products, interventions, practices) for use at scale, and to plan for commercialization. The goal is to support the successful transfer of research to practice at scale in education and special education. Proposals for both solicitations are due February 1, 2022.

Stay tuned for updates in 2022 on Twitter and Facebook as IES continues to support innovative forms of technology.


Edward Metz is a research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. Please contact Edward.Metz@ed.gov with questions or for more information.

 

IES Makes Two New SBIR Awards for the Full-Scale Development of Web-based Tools to Inform Decision Making by Postsecondary Students

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has announced two new awards to technology firms to fully develop web-based tools that inform student decision making in postsecondary education. The projects will focus on generating a measure of the return of investment (ROI) for different educational training programs and careers, so that high school and college students have access to data-driven information to guide their decisions.

The awards were made through a special topic offered by the U.S. Department of Education/IES Small Business Innovation Research (known as ED/IES SBIR) program, which funds the research and development of commercially viable education technology. (For information on the 22 awards made through the IES 2020 standard solicitation, read here.)

 

Background and Awards

While websites like College Scorecard and CareerOneStop provide information to explore training programs in colleges and occupations of interest, there is no tool that helps students understand the costs and benefits of individual postsecondary programs in an integrated, customizable, and user-friendly manner.  

A 2019 Phase I SBIR special topic solicitation requested proposals from small businesses to develop new ROI tools that would improve program completion rates, employment and earnings, and satisfaction with college or career, all while minimizing education-related debt. In 2019, two Phase I awards (see here and here) were made to firms to develop prototype ROI tools. The 2020 Phase II SBIR special topic solicitation requested proposals from the two 2019 Phase I awardees with plans for the full-scale development of the ROI tools, as well as an interface to present information to students and users.  Both firms received 2020 Phase II awards through this special topic:

 

  • Illinois-based BrightHive, Inc. is fully developing an open-source toolkit that states and networks can use to calculate metrics that support and inform decision-making by postsecondary students. The Training, Education, and Apprenticeship Program Outcomes Toolkit (TEAPOT) will include several components to support implementation, including data requirements, a field guide with instructional materials and technical tools to help partners to securely and ethically combine wage and education data, a resource hub containing expert guidance and recommendations for deploying the ROI metrics in different contexts and apps, and a reference interface that allows states and networks to present ROI data as part of their career guidance applications.

 

  • Virginia-based Vantage Point Consultants is fully developing the Return on College (ROC) tool to support students, families, and counselors with understanding of the lifetime costs and opportunity tradeoffs associated of different postsecondary degree programs.  In one version of ROC, students will be able to search colleges nationwide based on geographic location and occupational goals, with personalized output on projected debt, loan repayment, disposable income, graduation risk, and the ROI focal points of these decisions. In the other version of ROC, prospective students visiting a college website will receive data driven information on potential careers, salaries, price, and debt expected for degrees offered by a school.

 

After development is complete in early 2022, researchers will analyze whether the tools function as intended and are feasible for students to use. Research will also test if the tools show promise for producing a meaningful and accurate measure of ROI. Both firms will also focus on preparing for the wide-scale distribution of the tools to end users, as well as plans for sustaining the tools over time.

Stay tuned for updates on Twitter (@IESResearch) as IES projects drive innovative forms of technology.


Written by Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov), Program Manager, ED/IES SBIR

Investing in Next Generation of Education Technologies to Personalize Learning and Inform Instructional Practice

The Institute of Education Sciences Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR) funds entrepreneurial developers to create the next generation of education technology for students, teachers, and administrators in general and special education. The program emphasizes an iterative research and development process and pilot studies to evaluate the feasibility, usability, and promise of new products to improve educational outcomes. The program also focuses on commercialization after development is complete, so that the products can reach schools and be sustained over time.

In recent years, millions of students in tens of thousands of schools around the country have used technologies developed through ED/IES SBIR. And in the past four months, about one million students and teachers used the technologies for remote teaching and learning, as many ED/IES SBIR-supported developers made their products available at no cost in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of schools.

 

ED/IES SBIR Announces its 2020 Awards

This week, ED/IES SBIR announced the results of its 2020 award competition. Of the 22 new awards, 16 are for prototype development and 6 are for full-scale development. IES also announced two additional awards through a special topic solicitation in postsecondary education. Read about these awards here.

 

 

Each of the new awards supports a project to develop a product to personalize the student learning experience or generate information that educators can use to guide practice.

Most of the projects are developing a software component (for example, algorithms, artificial intelligence, machine Learning, or natural language processing) that continually adjusts the difficulty of content, provides prompts to support individual students if support is needed, or generates real-time actionable information for educators to track student progress and adjust instruction accordingly. Other projects are developing technologies to promote student learning through self-directed, hands-on, simulated, and immersive experiences. If the future of education includes a blend of in-class and remote learning due to public health crises, or for whatever reasons, technologies such as these will be ready to keep the learning going.

The projects address different ages of students and content areas.

In science, LightHaus is fully developing a virtual reality (VR) intervention for students to explore plant heredity; LightUp is fully developing an augmented reality (AR) app for students to perform hands-on physical science investigations with their own on-device camera; and Myriad Sensors is developing a prototype artificial intelligence formative assessment system that generates feedback in real time as students do hands-on laboratory experiments.

In math, Muzology is creating a prototype for students to create music videos to learn algebra, and Teachley is creating a prototype transmedia kit with videos, comics, and pictures to enhance teaching and learning of hard to learn concepts.

In engineering and computer science, Parametric Studios is fully developing an augmented reality puzzle game for early learners, and Liminal eSports, Makefully, and Beach Day Studios are creating prototype components that each provide feedback to students as they engage in activities to learn to code.

In English Language Arts, Analytic Measures and Hoogalit are each employing natural language processing to develop new prototypes to facilitate speech acquisition, and Learning Ovations is developing a prototype data engine to make recommendations for what individual children should read.

For English learners, KooApps is developing an artificial intelligence prototype to support vocabulary acquisition, and Kings Peak Technologies is employing machine learning to generate passages that blend English and Spanish words together to improve reading comprehension.

For early learners, Cognitive Toybox is fully developing an observation and game-based school readiness assessment.

For postsecondary students, Hats & Ladders is fully developing a social skills game to foster career readiness skills.

In special education, Attainment Company is developing a prototype to support student’s self-management, and Alchemie is developing a prototype of an augmented reality science experience for visually impaired students.

To support school administrators and teachers, LearnPlatform is fully developing a dashboard that generates reports with insights for teachers to implement education technology interventions, and Zuni Learning Tree, Teachley and LiveSchool are developing prototype dashboards to organize and present results on student progress and performance in real time.

 

Stay tuned for updates on Twitter and Facebook as IES continues to support innovative forms of technology.


Written by Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov), Program Manager, ED/IES SBIR

A2i: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

This blog post is part of an interview series with education researchers who have successfully scaled their interventions.

Assessment-to-Instruction (A2i) is an online Teacher Professional Support System that guides teachers in providing Kindergarten to Grade 3 students individualized literacy instruction and assessments. Students complete the assessments independently online without the teacher taking time away from instruction. A2i generates instantaneous teacher reports with precise recommendations for each student and group recommendations. See a video demo here. Between 2003 and 2017, researchers at Florida State University (FSU) and Arizona State University (ASU), led by Carol Connor, developed and evaluated A2i with the support of a series of awards from IES and the National Institutes of Health. Findings from all publications on the A2i are posted here.

While results across seven controlled studies demonstrated the effectiveness of A2i, feedback from practitioners in the field demonstrated that implementation often required substantial amounts of researcher support and local district adaptation, and that the cost was not sustainable for most school district budgets. In 2014, the development firm Learning Ovations, led by Jay Connor, received an award from the Department of Education (ED) and IES’s Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR) to develop an technologically upgraded and commercially viable version of A2i to be ready to be used at scale in classrooms around the country. In 2018, with the support of a five-year Education Innovation and Research (EIR) expansion grant from ED totaling $14.65 million, A2i is now used in more than 110 schools across the country, with plans for further expansion. 

 

Interview with Carol Connor (CC) and Jay Connor (JC)

From the start of the research in the early 2000s, was it always the goal to develop a reading intervention that would one day be used on a wide scale?
CC: Yes and no. First, we had to answer the question as to whether individualization was effective in achieving student literacy outcomes. Once the research established that, we knew that this work would have wide-scale application.

When did you start thinking about a plan for distribution
CC: Before embarking on the cumulative results studies, in 2008, Jay said that we needed to know who the “customer” was… i.e., how purchasing decisions were made at scale.  His 2008 Phase I ED/IES SBIR was critical in shifting our research focus from individual classrooms to school districts as the key scaling point. 

Did you work with a technology transfer office at the university?
CC: Only to the extent of contractually clarifying intellectual property (IP) ownership and licensing. 

Who provided the support on the business side?
CC: Jay, who has an MBA/JD and has been a senior officer in two Fortune 100 companies was very instrumental in guiding our thinking of this evolution from important research to practical application. 


 Do you have any agreement about the IP with the university? What were the biggest challenges in this area?

JC: Yes, Learning Ovations has a 60-year renewable exclusive licensing agreement with FSU Foundation. FSU couldn’t have been better to work with.  Though there were expected back-and-forth elements of the original negotiations, it was clear that we shared the central vision of transforming literacy outcomes.  They continue to be a meaningful partner.

When and why was Learning Ovations first launched?
JC: In order to pursue SBIR funding we needed to be a for-profit company.  At first, I used my consulting business – Rubicon Partners LLP – as the legal entity for a 2008 Phase I award from ED/IES SBIR.  When we considered applying (and eventually won) a Fast Track Phase I & II award from SBIR in 2014, it was clear that we needed to create a full C – Corp that could expand with the scaling of the business, thus Learning Ovations was formed.

Who has provided you great guidance on the business side over the year? What did they say and do? 
JC: Having run large corporate entities and worked with small business start-ups in conjunction with Arizona State University (Skysong) and the University of California, Irvine (Applied Innovation at The Cove) and having taught entrepreneurship at The Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine, I had the experience or network to connect to whatever business guidance we needed.  Further, having attended a number of reading research conferences with Carol, I was quite conversant in the literacy language both from the research side and from the district decision maker’s side.

How do you describe the experience of commercializing the A2i? What were the biggest achievements and challenges in terms of preparing for commercialization?

JC: Having coached scores of entrepreneurs at various stages, I can safely say that there is no harder commercialization than one that must stay faithful to the underlying research.  A key strategy for most new businesses: being able to pivot as you find a better (easier) solution.  It is often circumscribed by the “active ingredients” of the underlying research.  Knowing this, we imbued Learning Ovations with a very strong outcomes mission – all children reading at, or above, grade level by 3rd grade.  This commitment to outcomes certainty is only assured by staying faithful to the research.  Thus, a possible constraint, became our uncontroverted strength.

Do you have advice for university researchers seeking to move their laboratory research in education into wide-spread practice? 
JC:  Start with the end in mind.  As soon as you envision wide-scale usage, learn as much as you can about the present pain and needs of your future users and frame your research questions to speak to this.  Implementation should not be an after-the-fact consideration; build it into how you frame your research questions. On one level you are asking simultaneously “will this work with my treatment group” AND “will this help me understand/deliver to my end-user group.”  I can’t imagine effective research being graphed onto a business after the fact.  One key risk that we see a number of researchers make is thinking in very small fragments whereas application (i.e., the ability to go to scale) is usually much more systemic and holistic.

In one sentence, what would say is most needed for gaining traction in the marketplace?
JC: If not you, as a researcher, someone on your team of advisors needs to know the target marketplace as well as you know the treatment protocols in your RCT.

____________

Carol Connor is a Chancellor’s Professor in the UC Irvine School of Education. Prior she was a professor of Psychology and a Senior Learning Scientist at the Learning Sciences Institute at ASU. Carol’s research focuses on teaching and learning in preschool through fifth grade classrooms – with a particular emphasis on reading comprehension, executive functioning, and behavioral regulation development, especially for low-income children.

Joseph “Jay” Connor, JD/MBA, is the Founder/CEO of Learning Ovations, Inc, the developer of the platform that has enabled the A2i intervention to scale.  Jay has 20+ years of experience in senior business management at the multi-billion dollar corporate level, and has experience in the nonprofit and public policy arenas.

This interview was produced by Edward Metz of the Institute of Education Sciences.