When Nikki Navta hopped on a plane to Austin, Texas, earlier this week to serve on a panel at South by Southwest (SXSW), it was only the latest adventure in a very busy four weeks for this Pittsburgh entrepreneur.
In February, her Pittsburgh-based education technology company, Zulama, was acquired by a company called EMC, based in Minnesota. Her employees will remain working hard as ever in Pittsburgh, and the move made Navta the company’s new vice president of computer science products. With that change of title, she’s begun using her expertise in additional roles that further the mission she started with Zulama — using game technology to teach computer science to kids everywhere.
Last week, she was named by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as one of 36 education leaders in Pennsylvania to be STEM Ambassadors for the state. In this role, she helps to create a conduit connecting educators and Ed Tech business people with state and local legislators who can impact how STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) is addressed in schools around the Commonwealth.
In last week’s first meeting, the Ambassadors were acquainted with the legislative process, lobbying and how to effectively work with government administrators.
Navta’s panel at SXSW this week explored the question of working with Ed Tech accelerators. Addressing an audience of 75 attendees, Navta and other panelists shared their experiences regarding what to look for in a business accelerator and how to keep your expectations in line with what the accelerator can actually do for an Ed Tech business.
“Most Ed Tech entrepreneurs are too optimistic thinking they will become fully funded by the time they’re done in the accelerator,” she says. “The Demo Day is just the beginning of a longer, 6- to 12-month process of raising money. If they don’t understand that, they’ll be disappointed.”
During her time running Zulama, Navta was part of two accelerators, neither one based in Pittsburgh. According to Navta, the Pittsburgh early stage business and accelerator community has not focused on Ed Tech. Since Pittsburgh’s accelerators haven’t been as available as resources for startups in the Ed Tech field, companies tended to look elsewhere for mentoring and funding.
Navta is excited about her new roles and the possibilities of growing the work of Zulama, now that she’s not simply relying on the resources of a startup.
“I’m happy that I now have the resources to help me realize the vision of Zulama,” she says, “to teach computer science to all students through game design. It was very hard to get traction with a sales team of four.”
She also says she loves the culture in her new corporate parent, and has taken on roles that perhaps would have eluded her when she had the hectic schedule of an early-stage company CEO. Her additional roles include writing a regular column for EdWeek’s Startup blog, where her first post focused on one of her favorite topics: How to make startup accelerators work for you.