Our Startup Journey: Realizing Edtech’s Potential (Finally!)
Educational technology is, for most quite frankly, synonymous with insurmountable obstacles for startups including national curriculum standards, segmentation of the market, incredulity of the product offering, and most feared of all… the length of the school sales cycle.
Though there are programs that bolster efficacy in edtech like UCL Educate and education-specific accelerators like xEdu in place to create the latest innovation in edtech, there are few clear-cut yellow brick roads to success. But now with government’s plan for educational innovation, will this new report help pave the way?
Before the report was launched, on March 29th a cohort of edtech entrepreneurs ranging in expertise in SaaS platforms for teachers to soft-skills development programs took our voices to the Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street. Organized by Jimmy McLoughlin, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister and lead by Director of King’s College London Entrepreneurship Institute Julie Devonshire OBE and Mark Corbett of Edvent, we, the edtech entrepreneurs ourselves, spoke on how government could play a role in edtech innovation and shared with him the common hurtles edtech entrepreneurs most overcome in the British ecosystem.
Here were key discussion points from our Edtech Roundtable (with many of which were echoed within the Edtech Strategy).
Fragmentation in the Market
With the struggle of selling school-by-school or university-by-university, edtech sales B2B can be glacial. Can there be a way to unify a buying process beyond the multi-academic trust model? Leading this topic was Charles Wiles from Zzish, and he broke down the points of this issue and made suggestions to Special Advisor McLoughlin like national buying or bulk ordering system. Having experience with the district system in the US, Wiles spoke about that system of buying and opened up the question if bulk ordering could be applied within the UK school sector.
Not only did he shed light on his experiences with international markets, the UK’s broken buying system, and raising capital at the Roundtable, but he also expanded upon how the Strategy could go beyond buying power and efficiency but rather increase student attainment further in his most recent blog post.
Re-framing the Edtech Label
Now, along with sales comes the struggle of investability. With the dichotomy of the stereotypes — the eager, young entrepreneur and the hesitant investor — edtech often comes with its own labels that are hard to break through. We shared this with McLoughlin. In a number-driven world, raising investment as an edtech company is often difficult as we often measure social impact metrics and student success before marketing and user-acquisition costs. Unlike other sectors which can lend themselves to critical masses more quickly, edtech numbers dwindle when placed side to side.
Also, with the pressure of being shunted as AI, data analytic, or immersive reality, edtech companies are often reluctant to take on the “education” title. Tobias Whetton from Supernotes shares his experience with this in his blog (which I can say resounds with some of our own personal experiences at Musemio). Like Whetton and many of the companies though who are fighting back against the stigma, we at Musemio have not hesitated to call ourselves edtech because education is the driving force behind our product and mission.
Metrics, Measurements, and Co-Creation
Passionate about edtech, I shared with McLoughlin the same sentiment of Edvisor Finland’s Marcus Sheehan and Neil O’Toole: in a “tech-for-tech’s-sake” world, education must drive the technology and not the other way around. I expressed how that it was only from looking to the UK from the outside did we see the opportunities that Britain could implement. With Musemio’s participation in xEdu Program in Finland, I have been able to see firsthand how the number one education system and some of the best edtech companies work, which I broke down in three points.
The first is co-creation. How can we create great edtech products without having the teachers involved? Having seen the organized structure in co-creation such as the Espoo KYKY platform and experiencing it myself by working with Finnish classes, the only way to produce edtech that excites children but also engages teachers is to have their input from the beginning of product creation.
At Musemio, this co-creation element has been core in our development since the beginning. Even in prototype and pre-prototype stages, we have demoed our product with kids, parents, and classes to test our assumptions and see how it truly works within the workflow of a teacher and the pedagogy of the curriculum. This has only expanded as we work in dialogue within a more formalized co-creation environment and with feedback sessions with the schools we are working with in the UK and in Finland. These facets in the development process provide us with feedback and valuable insights from the learners that cannot wait until the post-prototype phase. Having a user-centered product, both from an educator’s and a child’s point of view, is critical to us as a cultural education platform, and co-creation has been essential in making this possible.
The second is recognition. But, when measuring impacts of pedagogy, is there a way to have a unified UK certified accreditation?
Currently, there are strides being made in accrediting efficacy and evidence-based edtech, such as the research-driven UCL Educate Program EdWards. This program enabled companies like Musemio to investigate the pedagogy and context of their edtech through a research proposal under the UCL Institute of Education’s top Phd candidates and leaders in the sector and then place this research into action in the field. We found this incredibly beneficial because it allowed us to step back with an expert and dive into the academic merit of the product we are creating.
One can also look at internationally to see accreditation that delves deep within the product and pedagogy, testing learning outcomes, usability, and the educational merit like Kokoa Standard Certification. This is a specific certification only for educational technology tested, trialed, and reported on by education and technology experts in the field. Now my question is, could something similar be adapted for British edtech? This would be an interesting point of investigation for officials.
The last is community. With a country quite small (population-wise!) to the UK, the edtech scene in Finland is massive and incredibly diverse with individuals from educational science to gaming to teachers themselves, but they have one thing in common: support and communication. With the vivacious edtech meetups and Edtech Finland, there is a communal ecosystem of knowledge, development, and skill-sharing that exists only in pockets in the UK. With local movements and meetup groups existing today, can there be a national-level British edtech organization that supports edtech entrepreneurs? (Spoiler, they did come up with a leadership panel in the Strategy.)
With these only being a snapshot of the topics we discussed, I hope that suggestions we made will bring about new thought, and most importantly, action.
Though Damian Hinds said, “I believe technology can be an effective tool to help reduce workload, increase efficiencies, engage students and communities, and provide tools to support excellent teaching and raise student attainment.” He misses a critical element in the edtech strategy; Like Charles Wiles poignantly notes, there is a gap within this agenda — addressing improving student attainment. With the user-centered companies present at the Edtech Roundtable, I can say that improving learning is essential to all of us.
Though the Edtech Strategy has shortcomings, with the Strategy’s testbed schools and universities setting the standard and more routes to innovation via competitions and collaboration, there is a clearer, public vision for edtech int the UK. I am excited to see the progress and support to be set forth by the yet-to-be-formed Edtech Leadership Group and the LendED program, which in my opinion will hopefully open up doors to the risk-adverse educators and allow these innovations into the classroom for trial periods free of charge.
The Edtech Strategy gives light to the “potential” of our technologies. But as an edtech entrepreneur, I recognize that what we are offering more than potential: we are revolutionizing the way children of the next generation will learn.