Giving students a voice and startups a leg up in higher and further ed with Jisc

How partnerships drive our understanding of the sector

At the heart of our approach to edtech is deep engagement with educational institutions and other key organizations in the sector.

This helps us understand their needs, informing our approach to the edtech market and what we expect from companies on our programme. Today, we wanted to give you a glimpse of what such engagement looks like in practice and the benefits it brings to the education organizations, students, and startups we work with. And there is hardly a better example than one of our closest partners in the higher and further education sector, Jisc. Best known as the stewards of the web domain and the Janet/eduroam network, Jisc provide the IT infrastructure and digital services that universities and colleges in the UK rely on every day.

Over the past two years, we have worked together with Jisc on a range of programmes and are thrilled to continue our close collaboration in 2018 as partners in the Edtech Launchpad initiative.

Through the Edtech Launchpad, Jisc is supporting students and startups in bringing their education technology ideas and products to market. It is no secret that early-stage companies can struggle to get traction when it comes to the higher education sector. Jisc’s unprecedented insight into the role of IT in higher and further education and in-depth understanding of the sector’s needs enables them to provide critical feedback and support to products in earlier stages of development.

As recognition grows that novel approaches to learning technology hold a lot of promise for issues HE and FE administrators and educators care about — like student engagement, — the Edtech Launchpad allows Jisc and Emerge Education to use our combined expertise in identifying and supporting some of the most promising founders just as they are setting out on their journey.

The partnership between Jisc and Emerge Education supports ideas through the whole innovation cycle from concept to market

There are three strands to this collaboration. One will be Jisc’s investment in relevant companies in Emerge Education’s cohorts, where the products already have some traction in the market. The equity investment of up to £30,000 from Jisc (alongside other Emerge Education investors, up to an overall total of £100,000) comes with tailored mentorship from Jisc and industry experts as part of the bespoke programme each Emerge company goes through. Two other strands build on existing Jisc programmes: the student ideas competition and the startups competition. We are excited to do our part in taking them even further than before.

The student ideas competition, previously known as the Summer of Student Innovation, is an incredible opportunity for students across the UK to shape the future of education technology. They submit short video pitches describing their ideas for how technology can improve the lives of learners and educators in the UK. After a public vote to determine the shortlist, the best teams get funding to attend a four-day design sprint, where they receive support to flesh out the idea and turn it into a prototype. Some of the winners have gone on to establish their own successful businesses or Jisc services.

Unitu’s 2014 pitch for the student ideas competition

At Emerge Education, we understand the importance of giving students a voice in the technologies that shape their learning. Not only that, we have a bit of a history with this particular competition: one of the winners of its 2014 iterations, Unitu, went on to join the EE3 cohort. This year, we’re helping to add another dimension to the competition. It has always been important to Jisc to make sure that students of all institutions, not just from universities, take part, and in 2018, we’re welcoming submissions from sixth-formers and apprentices as well. To help schools and colleges to make the most of this opportunity, we will be providing supporting materials like lesson plans to integrate the competition into their curricula. Taking part in the competition is a chance to develop entrepreneurial and employability skills — something all students would benefit from, not just those who go on to the next competition stage. The applications will open in March 2018, but you can sign up for updates right now on Jisc’s website.

The startups competition is another long-standing project at Jisc that we are excited to contribute to. After submitting an application, shortlisted founders are invited to pitch as Jisc’s Digifest conference in March, where the final list of winners is decided. These startups participate in a six-month mentorship programme, run by Jisc and Emerge Education, to help develop the product and find their market niche in the UK. Depending on their performance during the programme, which runs between May and November, and how closely aligned they are to Jisc’s strategic priorities, winners also have the chance to receive up to £10,000 in equity investment from Jisc.

Atif Mahmood, CEO of Lumici, delivering his pitch at Jisc’s London office

On the last Friday of November, the final day of the 2017 cohort, each company had a chance to pitch to a panel that included Paul Feldman, Jisc’s CEO, describing their progress and taking questions from the panel and the audience. This year, three of the six programme participants were Emerge alumni: Aula, Bibliotech, and Lumici. We were also thrilled to welcome three other excellent companies — Hubbub, VineUp, and Wildfire — to the Emerge community through this programme.

The next iteration of the startups competition comes hot on the heels of the 2017 cohort. Applications are opening next week for the 2018 intake, with shortlisted startups pitching at Digifest 2018 in Birmingham on 6 March 2018. We look forward to hearing from some great founders — the deadline for submissions is 22 January 2018. To find out more, visit Jisc’s website.

Reconnecting with the basics of our product and our customers has enabled us to cut out a lot of the extraneous stuff that was starting to take our time and attention away from the value that we bring to customers.
— Martin Campbell (Hubbub) for the Edtech Launchpad blog.

Jisc are recognized throughout the further and higher education sector as one of the undisputed leaders in the country when it comes to education technology. Their members — HE and FE institutions — often struggle to navigate the landscape of early-stage edtech and, by partnering with Jisc, we can share our startups expertise with the largest network of universities and colleges in the UK. In turn, we learn more about how the founders we work with can best address their needs, so that the technology that comes to market is timely and relevant to the issues faced by the sector. It is through partnerships like this one that Emerge Education has become a trusted bridge between education technologists and the education community — a role we’re proud to play.