There are a number of ways education start ups are different from other start-ups, and one needs to appreciate these differences to be able to construct a start up proposition in higher education. To start with, an education institution must be recognized, which is different from accredited, to offer value for its students. This is a step which takes a great amount of effort, and start-ups are thinking differently about recognition. Some, who could afford it, have offered courses free, in order to acquire reputation and following: They have also used big name professors from recognized universities and leveraged the name recognition. Others have taken a route which will take longer time, and have gone for full accreditation. This route indeed needs full investor backing and patience, as this may take years before a start-up could be fully recognized. Some, and we fall in this category, had to take the middle path - accreditation to get real students, but a stepped approach to accreditation because one needs to get to market without waiting for years. This is therefore the first ingredient of the minimum viable product - recognition in some form - that an education start-up must secure.
Finally, education start ups must resolve, in their own minds at least, whether how to deal with the 'reputation question'. There are far too many start-ups trying to create the reputation hallow, and education entrepreneurs seem to believe that what ailed the previous generation of education companies, the 'For-Profit' ones, is the lack of reputation: The fact that they were too downmarket, publican, in their appeal. But, one could equally argue that there is no point in chasing 'reputation' for a start-up, because what most people refer to the R word as a proxy of social prestige and exclusivity. There are enough provisions for prestige seekers already and no space for start ups there: Higher Education's problem is relevance and productivity and this is the problems start ups should address. Besides, the current model is to try to rent reputation rather than going through the patient process of creating one, and arguably, this is counter-productive: Not just one can't just live in reflected glory, but that such short-cuts undermine the very process how reputation is built, through a patient acquisition of successes over a long period of time. The current game of reputations, putting on the wall plaques of some well known universities, reduce the incentive to develop a coherent vision and commitment to do things well.