EdJobTech Day #1 : Taking EdTech to a new level

Timothee Barriere
Jan 6, 2019 · 5 min read

In 2018, the EdTech sector accounted for €8 billion of investment worldwide, only €220 million of which was spent in France. To reduce the significant barriers that exist in France, cultural differences need to be overcome and the entire EdTech ecosystem needs to find a way of working together: from start-ups to researchers, and institutions to educational establishments. As a major issue for the educational sector, it was on the agenda of the very first EdJobTech Day, a series of seminars organized on November 29, 2018. The event was designed to highlight the activities of about 20 fledgling businesses that are being supported by the emlyon business school’s accelerator and that are representative of the 300 start-ups in this sector nationwide. EdJobTech Day provided the opportunity for a deep dive into innovative solutions for reinventing ways of learning, the education system and the entry of young graduates into the world of work.

EdTech against the rest of the world (of education): The culture shock

“We are working with start-ups that are transforming the world of education; and together we are looking for solutions that create value,” explains Michel Coster, Director of the emlyon business school Accelerator at the opening session of the first EdJobTech Day. “We want to help entrepreneurs have a vision,” adds Virginie Boissimon-Smolders, the accelerator’s deputy director. “We want them to really ask themselves why they have decided to create a company.”

Identifying and understanding the expectations of potential users is one of the major challenges for EdTech entrepreneurs, who are often far removed from some of the key players in their chosen markets. Bridges still need to be built in order to reduce the cultural gap between the more strict world of education, which is often wary of innovation in certain areas, and the world of the EdTechs, who are looking to tear up the rule book. It’s a culture shock — a conflict between different mindsets — and it has real consequences for doing business. It’s difficult to propose paid-for solutions for primary and secondary school teachers, which means having to find other sources of finance.

“It’s the main difficulty facing EdTechs,” according to Virginie Boissimon-Smolders. “Both sides need to be flexible. We strongly encourage entrepreneurs to understand this cultural difference.” But just how do you do that? The answer is to explain the mechanisms, intricacies and different levels of decision-making in the national education system. “If life for your average entrepreneur is a marathon, it’s an Ironman for an EdTech entrepreneur,” adds Marie-Christine Levet, the founder of Educapital, Europe’s first venture capital fund devoted to EdTech. For her, the education market is one of the most laborious in the world!

Generally speaking, EdTechs need to demonstrate their ability to grow if they are to attract investors. And to become bigger, start-ups need to create business models that can be exported abroad — which is rarely the case. As Maximilien Bacot of Breega Capital confirms: “Projects need to be better financed, and that probably involves bringing a number of different initiatives together. We have succeeded in creating a start-up nation; now we need to create a scale-up nation.”

From DigiSchool to Unly, the great promise of EdTech

While market access may be difficult in the education sector, there have been some undeniable success stories among the start-ups. It’s certainly been the case for DigiSchool, a platform for helping with homework that now has 12 million site visits a month, 200 employees and turnover in excess of €5 million. And it’s been the same for Woonoz, whose original aim in 2005 was to improve students’ handwriting. Today, its solutions have 5 million regular users and the company is developing offerings based on neuroscience that provide highly-personalized learning.

Along with these two flagship companies in Lyon, several potential start-ups were invited to pitch their ideas at EdJobTech Day, including Holy Owly, which helps children aged 3–11 to learn English, and Illini, a language-learning platform with an original style of teaching — based on daily videos. For its part, Unly is looking to promote diversity in higher education.

Moving from EdTech to JobTech, HPI is a platform for measuring employees’ quality of life at work. “Thanks to our first 10 customers, we have been able to raise €500,000 and build an initial turnover of €200,000,” explained one of its founders during a presentation at EdJobTech Day. Other firms are developing solutions to help people move from one career to another by using a smart teaching companion (Inokufu).

A support network for EdTech and JobTech entrepreneurs

To help start-ups to grow, the accelerator at the emlyon business school has set up a mentoring system. The value of this approach was illustrated at EdJobTech Day by the presence of Alexandre Pachulski, a Paris-based star of HR software, who discussed his sources of inspiration as a way of motivating the entrepreneurs in the audience. His talk even included quotations from The Lord of the Rings.

“It’s important to have feedback from experienced people,” underlined Virginie Boissimon-Smolders. The founder of DigiSchool, Anthony Kuntz, along with the founder of Woonoz, Fabrice Cohen, are part of this mutual support network. Not only does it enable experienced entrepreneurs to share their success, it also highlights the social aspect that needs to be a guiding principle for any innovative initiative in the field of education.

“You mustn’t lose sight of the fact that Mankind is at the heart of these technologies,” says Michel Coster. “While the EdTech market is a narrowly-defined one, it is also very promising. Thanks to Big Data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, start-ups are able to democratize personalized learning — something that was once the preserve of the wealthy.

Timothée Barrière (with Capucine Coquand)

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