I had the pleasure of sitting down with Brendan Earley from Edspace last month, a co-working space based in a community college in the London borough of Hackney, where education startups, collaborate, grow and learn from each other.
Formalising the strong London edtech cluster and collecting innovation under one roof
Coworking spaces are surrounding us. But before the creation of Edspace, there was no single place for education entrepreneurs to work together in London — there’s a growing demand for such thing facilitated by increasing investment into the education sector. The new 150-desks coworking space was founded by four of the movers and shakers of the London Edtech ecosystem and recently relocated to a bigger space.
Brendan, Edspace’s manager, used to work with young homeless adults in London, overseeing 3 shelters and running employment workshops — the negative light in which education was perceived was one of the key driver of his reconversion when cuts in funding induced the loss of the premises — as Edspace is above all about growing companies moved by the improvement learning outcomes and accessibility to education.
Collaborating with educators
The new HQ of the London edtech hub are conveniently located at Hackney Community College, thanks to an interesting partnership fostering collaboration between educators and entrepreneurs. The connexion with the college allows those companies to be based in their marketplace — the faculty can give precious feedback on the different products. Startups have the opportunity to beta their product and services to a crowd of more than a thousand students enrolled in the college: this ideal situation gives a boost to start-ups struggling to procure data around their products and allows them to understand how one product falls within the dynamic of how a school operates.
Providing opportunity to the local community: Edtech as a tech cluster with direct link to improving London’s education institution
Hackney has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the UK : Edspace is also about strengthening the links between the edtech sector and job seekers. It is primordial that local communities see the benefits of Tech City’s growth, especially given that Ian Ashman, principal of the community college, was one of the strong leaders in founding Tech City UK. Valuable exposure to tech companies is thus provided to students who will have from next term on the opportunity for apprenticeships and work experience placements with companies based in Edspace.
Joining forces within the London ecosystem: facilities are adding value to the community
“This is an inclusive space, less structured than an accelerator but we try to push the community and network side of it to go beyond the coworking.”
Among other things, Edspace flipped everyone over Slack — “it’s less formal than sending an email blast to everybody” and people started to make instant connexions and to help each other find employees. Compared to other spaces, Brendan thinks the specificity of the education sector is that people are a bit more focused.
“The whole “I want to get to work to have fun” doesn’t really translate — we’re not looking at having a ping pong table or a beer tap, people want added value rather than added fun”
Free schools, social enterprises and edtech companies (the latter accounting for 60% of the members): a growing number of actors are taking action — maybe Edspace is the beginning of something for them to join forces. Among over 29 exciting companies and institutions, you may stumble upon the new Emerge cohort (Emerge Education helps grow startups through a network of leading investors, industry-specific mentors and educational institutions, run in partnership with Eton College and Oxford University’s Said Business School) or the wonderful TeachPitch, a web-based learning platform that helps teachers and schools to identify the best online learning resources, who were finalists in Edtech Europe’s Edtech20 this year.
“We’re offering, just like a vocational college would do, a structure which offers a lot of personal growth and learning opportunities”
As Rebecca Collins from Huckletree puts it: “People who had previously been motivated by price are starting to invest in coworking membership for the strength of the community itself, rather than the simple convenience of renting a desk with flexible terms.”
The perfect example of this added value may be the the Hoxton Edspace Education Meetup, where Brendan curates curating a series of events covering topics critical to securing the foundations of your business as well as introducing you to new insights and trends in the sector.
Inspiring communities beyond the UK
A Sub-Saharan government sent a delegation to EDSPACE earlier this year to learn more about innovation in education and the Edspace community spent time adapting their products to their specific needs and discussing their vision further.
“We definitely want to expand abroad as the home of education innovation, and we want to get this model right”
To Brendan, Edspace is more than a space, it’s a movement — and an ambitious one that plans to expand to major cities globally, exporting the wonderful model they’ve crafted together with Hackney Community College this year in other tech hubs around the globe as well as in developing countries to maximize exposures to tech advances for educators.