Edtech in Higher Ed

Another monthly meetup delivers fresh insights, and vast quantities of pizza. This evening was tailored to startups looking to make it in Higher Education (HE).

Jonathan, CEO of Hubbub told us what not to do. It is far easier to avoid the mistakes of others than try and emulate all they did correctly.

Don’t ignore crucial feedback; focus on customer development from the beginning. In Hubbub’s case, all alumni networks are owned by the university — when Jonathan asked if they would promote Hubbub as a student facing crowdfunding platform, they said ‘hell no, it directly competes with us our efforts!’. Hubbub did not take that feedback and build a value proposition for the university but stuck to their guns for two years.

Now Hubbub create white label crowdfunding solutions for universities to monetise their alumni. They are putting control in the hands of university, like they asked for 2 years ago.

Sales cycles are long, at least 6–9 months. Watch out for the ‘handshake yes’; when someone says ‘yes, we’ll have a year’s subscription for £10k, you are could still be 3–6months away from sale. Perhaps you were not talking to the those that control the budget, the decision had not been through legal processes and preocurement etc. To help the situation move, create specific material for each person in the chain to understnad and explain your tool or service. Raise enough capital for 18–24 months minimum.

Know when the buying cycles are. Adjust pricing for budget cycles. Ask what the threshold is at which the individual you are talking to can sign off before procurement is necessary (which sets you back at least 3 months). If it’s £7k, then consider selling to them at a heavily discounted rate for £7k. Once next year roles around you will not need to wade through the procurement process as you are an active tool and you can hike up the price, as agreed.

Don’t sell the whole package. No one wants to be revolutionised. They usually want to save time. Solve a very specific problem for a specific person, and then slowly slip in the rest.

Ignacio represented Unitu. They have created a tool that gives rise the student voice. It allows universities to address student issues quickly thereby increasing student satisfaction and retention.

Universities are struggling. They have many pain points, student satisfaction and retention being among the most important. I.e there is opportunity..

Like Jonathan, Ignacio started his talk with the Number 1 rule of startups - customer research. What is their pain and how much does it cost them?

Work out who your customer segments are and define your value proposition for each of them. It will not be the same for everyone.
At universities you may deal with managers, budget holders, IT administrators, academics, students and promoters.

Once you know who each segment is, define your lean generation and sales process. Ignacio recommended SPIN Selling by Neil Rackman.

Ignacio stressed, that it you must identify your promoters. Enable them to sell to other students. Give them the tool kit of documents and support. Help them become a sales person in the university for you.

Customer acquisition cost is the most important metric. It is what will kill a startup. Don’t spend money on stalls at BETT or other shows. Dont take ads out in student magazines. Do use low cost, high potential solutions. Use tools like Sendbloom to send email campaigns to databases of relevant people that you build up. Do speaker events. Leverage referrals. Use twitter event to do very targeted campaigns to those you are outreaching to via email, so you seem bigger than you are.
Find a channel partner. Unitu partner with Jisc, who provide digital services (wifi, hardware) to universities throughout the UK. Not only does the Jisc partnership provide potential sales channels, but it adds much needed gravitas and credibility. A large university does not want to take a risk on a 4 man startup who have just run a pilot.

Jisc are currently running a competition: Summer of Student Innovation — 1 week left to apply.

Diana Laurillard works at the London Knowledge Lab. She represented the academics, “I am the person sitting the other side wondering why these companies are not giving us what we asked for?!”

What do academics want? We want it all! We need tools to be both stable and agile. Opportunistic and risk free. Creative and customisable. Course focused and open to anything. Innovative and easy.

Diana then took a deep dive. HE needs to professionalise teaching as they have done in the research process: journals and peer review means research is scrutinised and iterated upon, which moves the common body of understanding in a forward direction. Can teaching become a design science? What is the teaching equivalent of a journal paper?

Diana and her colleagues have created Learning Designer, currently an MVP, that allows teacher collaboration, and to share pedagogy. Teachers can create a learning framework, which visually represents which types of learning the student will be participating in. The framework can be tested, adapted, improved, reviewed and reused by themselves or others. Teachers love finding optimised form of blended learning and Diana wants to enable them to act as design scientists. Browse, design, develop, redesign, test, publish.

Lastly, Diana said, if you want to find her and others like her, hang out at the Association of Learning Technologies.

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