Category Archives: Accelerator

Inspiring kick-off Sanoma’s Learning Lab in Leiden

Today we kicked-off of the Learning Lab at the Da Vinci College in Leiden, The Netherlands. I was super-excited about this for both professional and personal reasons. I’m passionate about our goal to improve learning as we transform to a more personalized future. I like and respect the forward-looking Da Vinci College in my home-town – the “education city” of Leiden. And this is a great collaboration between Learning and Digital at Sanoma, the teams to which I have committed my professional life in recent years.

Inspiring introductions

annick2We started with some inspiring introductions from the school, Sanoma and facilitator MakerLab. One of the absolute highlights of the day for me was the introduction and welcome to Da Vinci College Kagerstraat by Rector Annick Dezitter. I’d met her before on a visit to the school when we had discussed the personalization of learning. In her introduction, she talked openly and passionately about the future and had a very engaging personal style. I imagine she is an inspiring Rector! She is originally from Belgium and the two Belgians in our Learning Lab team (Johan Merlevede, Chief Transformation Officer in Sanoma Learning’s Leadership Team – the overall sponsor of the Learning Lab, and Joris van Heukelom, Partner at MakerStreet) both proudly reminded me that they are Belgian too, after her speech :-). I very much appreciated her warm welcome and inspiring words.

Lassi Kurkijarvi, innovation hero, at the kick-offAnother highlight was from my former colleague and founder of Sanoma Lab, Lassi Kurkijarvi. He was my first hire at Sanoma Digital and is a mobile native with a can-do mentality and a big heart. I love working with that guy and have learned a lot from him about engaging people. I really liked to see how the style and content of his session had deepened and progressed from our very first accelerator a couple of years ago (it was already good then). I love to see people grow like that!

Selecting the ideas and team leaders

The ten idea owners who will lead the teams from HollandNext, each of the 30 participants pitched their ideas and 10 were chosen to lead teams to develop their concept in the next stage. Seven were selected by the crowd and three through wildcards. It was really fast-paced and exciting! It was great to hear the ideas and to get a sense of the person behind the idea during the pitch. I was very happy with the selection of people and ideas. The 10 team leaders include four teachers, three Sanoma employees and three external “open” applicants. A great mix of talent!

Working out

After lunch the real work began with the first workshop. The teams were formed and the first steps were taken. I’m curious where this will lead us. The spirit and energy were good.

Looking forward >>

We will be continuing with similar kick-offs in Gdansk, Antwerp, Helsinki and Stockholm in the coming days. We will then develop the concepts, five of which will eventually win a place to build a prototype of their idea at bootcamp in Amsterdam in December. I’m truly excited about this! Thanks to everyone who is joining us and respect to you! Looking forward >>

Sanoma’s Learning Lab hits the right note

learning-labI love the start of the new school year: it feels like a time of new beginnings and new opportunities. I’m especially excited about the coming semester because we will be running our Learning Lab in partnership with five great innovative schools!

Improving the impact of education on learning

We’re a key partner to schools and frontrunner in the digital transformation in some of the World’s best performing education systems, including Finland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and also Sweden. We’re deeply committed to supporting excellence and equity in education. And we see that many stakeholders in education are looking for renewal: for improved learning outcomes, for better engagement and for new ways of working. Our goal with this Learning Lab is to co-create new concepts, together with our partners, that help to improve and evidence the impact of education on learning.

In time and in tune with teachers

Our target was to recruit 150 participants. However, the Lab has been heavily over-subscribed: we have received about 350 applications! We will increase capacity to take account of this. Interest has been especially strong from teachers. The subject and timing of this innovation lab seems to be very much in line with the needs of our customers. We really appreciate your trust in working together with us in developing new ways of teaching and learning.

Five innovative partners

Thanks to all the individuals and also to the five partner schools for showing their innovative colours and joining us on this journey of discovery. The partner schools are:

It’s great that you have taken on this challenge together with us.

Looking forward >>

I can’t wait for the kick-offs at the beginning of October. We’re going to learn new skills, broaden our networks and take a positive step to improving learning.  And we’ll have a lot of fun on the way!  I’m excited to be working with you on this initiative in the next few months!

Seven trends shaping the future of learning

Last week we concluded the start-up challenge on the future of learning with five inspiring pitches at TNW Europe. Many congratulations to Labster on winning and thanks to all five finalists would did themselves proud in their pitches! Check out my post on it here.

I was also one of the keynote speakers on the EduTrack at TNW. I received quite a few requests for a copy of the presentation – here it is and here is a drawing taken during the session.

These days I try to use images more than words in storytelling (except in my blog 🙂 ), so the slides benefit from further explanation. In this post, I would like to share my views on a number of trends that are shaping the future of learning, as seen from the perspective of a provider of learning solutions. Obviously this is in the style of a 15 minute presentation at a tech conference and not a white paper :-).

I would like to introduce myself

I was born in the Heart of England in the early 1970’s. Already at primary school I developed a passion for learning. I wanted to become a doctor and find a cure for cancer. So I studied hard, I really loved to learn, and went on to complete a PhD in molecular biology. Now of course my dream was unrealistic, I didn’t find a cure. But the dream did bring me something else. It brought me an education. And this gave me a passport to the world. So I moved to The Netherlands as a research scientist and university teacher. I then became a science publisher and now lead Sanoma Learning one of Europe’s leading education companies, with headquarters in Helsinki.

About Sanoma Learning

What I like the most about Sanoma Learning is working together with 1500 professionals who share my passion for learning.

We serve about 10 M pupils and 1 M teachers every day in Northern Europe. And we’re an integral player to the educational systems of 5 countries including Finland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and Sweden – a sort of all-star cast for PISA. We acquired our position in Sweden a couple of years ago and are going to help them to improve their learning outcomes and rise in the PISA rankings, as we have been doing in Poland. We have a reputation for quality and export solutions to more than 40 other countries.

We make annual sales of about € 300 M, including € 40 M of pure-play digital and € 100 M of multichannel, arguably making us Europe’s biggest EdTech company today.

Three cornerstones to excellent education

three-cornerstonesWe believe that an effective interplay between teachers, pupils and learning resources is the primary factor in achieving great learning outcomes. From the perspective of being a leading provider of learning solutions, we see seven trends that are shaping the next generation of learning.

Trend #1 From input to outcomes

input-to-outcomesinputThere has traditionally been a lot of emphasis on the inputs into education. How much do we spend? How many pupils per classroom? How many hours of class time? How many devices in the school? And so on. These things are all inputs. The good thing about inputs is that they’re fairly easy to measure. But the value is in the outcome not the input.

Ultimately on the system level, the main outcome we are trying to achieve is to help people to make progress in their lives: to help them in their learning career, to help prepare them for work and to help to develop them to become good citizens.

These are really big goals for education systems, and by the time we know how we are doing, it’s too late to make positive interventions for a better outcome. So in my view we need to guide outcomes in learning on a more local level, maybe on the level of each lesson or each course:

– does this activity contribute to a good learning result for all of the pupils involved?
– in a way that is time and cost effective?
– and in a way that is engaging and motivating for pupils and teachers?

I believe we should re-shape education by bringing these outcomes into focus.

Trend #2 From mass to personal

massmass-personalAs we move from the industrial age to the knowledge age, our ways of working in education will change too.

Technology will support us in tailoring pedagogy, curriculum and learning support to the needs and aspirations of the individual learner.

If we can get that right, we will be much more successful in helping individuals to reach their potential. This is a huge opportunity for us to unleash the potential of our children.

Trend #3 From workload to workflow

workload-workflowworkloadWe did some ethnographic research with teachers in Finland, a world-class education system. We were surprised to see that about 15 hours per week were being lost on bottlenecks in the workflow. For example, keeping track of administration, manual checking, inefficient communication streams and disruption in the classroom. Imagine the effect that these bottlenecks have on learning outcomes and motivation, and think about the impact that could be achieved if those hours were spent on teaching instead. Also, for a primary school with say 350 pupils and 35 teachers, the financial cost of these bottlenecks is about € 500 k per year.

We expect that technology will address some of the problem. For our part, we are digitalising our courses. Other elements of the workflow will get automated and personalised too. Teachers should spend their time and energy on teaching. This is their skill and passion and this is where they bring excellence to education.

Trend #4 From analogue to digital

analog-digitalanalogueSchools are slowly but surely becoming more digital. However, today in northern Europe, there is a big gap in access to technology between the school and the home. And we are arguably the most digital part of the world! There might typically be 5 devices per household. At the same time, there are typically about 5 pupils for every workstation in schools. So we have to design solutions that can play to that dynamic. Currently most of our methods play multichannel. We expect to continue to play multichannel for 5 or 10 more years and that by 2020 digital will be leading in the usage of most courses.

Trend #5 From data to insight

datadata-insightIn the coming years a wealth of data will come on stream about the learning of our children. Clearly, we have to treat privacy with the utmost respect. And also to look to the opportunity. We’re going to get rich data-sets and insights into how individual pupils, teachers, classes, pieces of content, courses and entire systems perform. We can use these insights to guide intervention: to raise learning outcomes, to focus resources, to enhance engagement. We should embrace these insights to improve learning, and to stop doing the things do not bring value.

Trend #6 From classroom to borderless

classroom-borderlessclassroomDigital is fundamentally changing the way we live. In the analogue world, the classroom was the centre of learning, whereas the individual stands central in the digital world. Digital has opened up the border between school and home and we see growing demand for services related to curriculum, tutoring and communication that bring a holistic approach to learning for the pupil.

Trend # 7 From scarcity to abundance

scarcity-abundancescarcityLooking at it from the global perspective, good quality education has been the preserve of the happy few. It’s been a scarce resource. However, that’s about to change for the better. Extreme poverty has halved over the last 20 years and some reckon that extreme poverty will be eliminated within 20 years. Going hand-in-hand with rising prosperity has been increased access to mobile technology for the world’s poorest people.

Education is one of the most powerful instruments known for reducing poverty and inequality and for laying the basis for sustained economic growth, sound governance, and effective institutions.

“Imagine the profound impact on our people and planet if we can bring mobile learning to the four billion people rising out of poverty. Imagine that.”

Time to embrace change and invest in renewing education

So these are seven trends that we believe are shaping the next generation of learning. I am sure there are more, and they are obviously impacted by the perspective you have.

“We believe it’s time for governments, companies, schools and individuals to embrace these changes and invest in renewing education for the next generation.”

What can Sanoma do?

So we ask ourselves what we can do to contribute to the renewal of education. The answer is in our mission already – in supporting pupils and teachers on three fronts:

– Achieving excellent learning outcomes
– Enhancing workflow efficiency
– And supporting engaging learning

By creating courses that play multichannel that address those three goals, we can contribute to building the future of learning.

Learning outcomes accelerator

We see that the most challenging of these tasks for everyone in the educational ecosystem is how we can take a step forward on learning outcomes.

We like a challenge at Sanoma Learning. So we want to run an innovation accelerator focusing on learning outcomes.

“How can we improve and evidence the impact of education in the new era?”.

Together with schools, teachers, pupils and academics, plus about 75 learning and start-up professionals from Sanoma, we want to run a 10 week program to develop ideas and build prototypes of solutions that can improve and evidence the impact of education.

We’re going to start recruiting the teams and participants now, ready for a kick-off in September. If you’re interested to join us or to learn more, please visit

We’ve run 5 accelerators at Sanoma in the last couple of years and I can promise you they are inspiring and energising and you learn new ways of co-developing your ideas with your customers.

Any questions?

Thanks for listening. Feel free to contact me @johnrichmartin. And please let me know if you want to join us in renewing education for the next generation.

Sanoma’s digital transformation gains momentum

Sanoma House in Helsinki

Sanoma House in Helsinki

Last week Sanoma announced the FY2013 results. To be frank they were mixed, with online and mobile sales growing but print media in decline. The vocabulary turned classical: annus horribilis, Utopia, and per angusta ad augusta, could be heard in English, Finnish and Dutch conversations during the week. As is often the case with mixed signals, the good news has been somewhat drowned out by the more negative headlines throughout the year.  Yet Learning had a good 2013. And after a slow start to the year the overall digital platform has gained momentum and performed particularly strongly in the final quarter.

I always find it tricky blogging about financial results given that Sanoma is a listed company. But now that we have announced the results, I’d like to call out a handful of highlights on digital in Finland, The Netherlands, Learning and early stage innovation at Sanoma in 2013, drawing on the published materials.

As a reminder, the core strategy of Sanoma rests on three pillars: i) connecting consumers with content and brands, anywhere, anytime; ii) delivering powerful marketing opportunities to advertisers through our reach and consumer insight; and iii) providing personalized digital learning solutions to pupils and teachers.  Digital is clearly an integral part of that strategy.


Our share of the online media market grew by 5%-points to almost 40%.  Our online advertising revenues grew by 18% over the previous year and digital consumer sales grew by almost 30%. Digital subscriptions at Sanoma’s single biggest brand, the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, grew by almost 40% to 160,000 (on a total of about 355,000). Furthermore, digital sales at our second biggest brand Ilta-Sanomat grew by about 40%, whereby digital revenue gains now appear to be exceeding print losses; this terrific performance also secured a lead for Ilta-Sanomat over Iltalehti in terms of visitors. We also saw early success at magazines with the Donald Duck library reaching 12,000 subscribers.

Our market-leading position in recruitment got even stronger and we regained leadership in terms of visitors in real estate.  Finally, we made a great start with e-commerce service with more than 120 retailers already on board.

We have seen strong growth in usage via mobile devices and of online video and this is where we have registered our fastest growth.  By the end of 2013, over 50% of all pageviews on our Finnish network came from mobile devices, with mobile visitors growing by over 100% and pageviews by close to 150%.  Correspondingly, mobile advertising sales grew by around 180%Online video advertising sales grew by over 30% and the weekly reach of video platform by 25%.

The Netherlands

comScore ranks Sanoma #4 of the big 5 in The Netherlands with 8.1 M unique visitors (MUV) in December 2013  – behind Google, Microsoft and Facebook (12.7, 10.7 and 9.9 MUV, respectively), but ahead of eBay (6.6 MUV). Other Dutch media groups are also represented in the top 20, but lack the reach of Sanoma. The state-subsidised NPO, and privately run TMG, De Persgroep and RTL Groep, registered a reach of 6.2, 5.3, 4.7 and 4.4 MUV respectively in December., the leading news site by visitors and strongest media brand in The Netherlands and a cornerstone of Sanoma’s digital network, further strengthened this position in 2013 delighting readers with more than pageviews, almost exactly 50 per inhabitant per month! Pageviews have more than doubled in the last three years and in the meantime more than 75% of views are made from mobile devices.  NU-apps have been downloaded more than 5 M times so far.

In common with Finland, video also grew strongly (about 40%) totalling 152 M at video platform – an extension of the highly successful magazine brand Linda. – came with a new version that resulted in a tripling of the number of visitors to 1.2 M and a doubling of advertising sales.

Digital sales via automated trading increased by almost 25% – a serious money-maker for our digital network.  Our performance-based business had a solid year. In particular, sales at the recently acquired FashionChick doubled, partly driven by international expansion. The introduction of curated search at directory has been a runaway success and one of the most rapidly growing digital product innovations we have made in recent years. Net sales of e-commerce service SBC grew by 25%, with sales of home deco performing particularly well with a growth of nearly 50%, And soft launches of new brands (health) and (jewellery) and of the international launch of price comparison site in France and Poland have helped to ensure a healthy pipeline of new business lines that we expect will support the growth of the performance-based assets in the coming years.


At Learning, there are also good data to evidence our progress to a more digital future. Much of this relates to bringing content to life by making it more functional through digital. For example, in The Netherlands, more than 1,000,000 pupils in primary education work with Malmberg’s software, reaching 60% of all schools.  In a single week in November, more than 1,000,000 exercises were made on homework platform in Belgium. And in Finland, teachers and pupils logged into Sanoma Pro’s new learning environment 1,900,000 times, with 768,000 hours of active use. In the meantime 800 e-books have been published in Sanoma’s five Learning countries on the BookShelf platform provided by Young Digital Planet.

In addition to transforming its core business, Sanoma Learning is working on providing learning services to the home market with a new online tutoring proposition for mathematics: StudySteps. This has been soft launched in Belgium and The Netherlands, tested in Poland and Russia, and the first results are promising, with 110,000 exercises made in the test period.

Furthermore, Sanoma Learning is exploring the possibilities to build a position in emerging markets and has amongst others made an agreement with the People’s Education Press to provide digital services to support the provision of e-learning in China. It’s early days, but there is clear demand for Sanoma’s high quality Learning capabilities abroad.


SanomaVentures had an exciting year, receiving over 400 requests from external startups, which ultimately resulted in 9 investments, bringing the total to 15 to date.  In aggregate the business/financial performance of this portfolio has been promising and these ventures currently employ over 161 people. We expect to make a similar number of new investments this year.

Building on the success of the series of in-house innovation accelerators, we have now launched an Innovation Lab to foster the ventures that are borne out of the accelerators and as a test ground for new ideas from the core business.  We currently have a full pipeline of concepts, prototypes and early stage ventures and have set ourselves the goal to have established five ventures in the next 3-5 years that have an annual revenue potential of € 10 M+. In 2013 we ran four accelerators (Content, Commerce, Talent and NU-lab), two of which were open to external participation. Through these accelerators we trained about 500 Sanoma employees on the lean development methodology and created 15 functional prototypes, about half of which have been given seed funding for further customer validation.

Finally, we have significantly increased our investments and human resourcing on data science including hiring a team of 20 data scientists last year to boost our analytics and insights capabilities across Sanoma. We are currently working on developing the common “big data” enablers, as well as specific cases on consumer sales, online advertising and new business models. We expect to make a quantum leap in our insights capabilities in the coming years.

Good progress on the journey

Overall, reflecting on the three pillars of Sanoma’s strategy i) connecting consumers with content and brands, anywhere, anytime, and ii) delivering powerful marketing opportunities to advertisers through our reach and consumer insight and iii) providing personalized digital learning solutions to pupils and teachers, I believe the highlights above show that digital has made a big contribution in 2013 to progressing this strategy. Respect to the teams who have made this happen and thanks for your hard work!

Making it happen at the CommerceAccelerator bootcamp!

Participants at the closing session. Blinded by the light ...

Participants at the closing session. Blinded by the light …

We’re working hard on transforming Sanoma for a more digital future. Boosting innovation is key and includes developing new digital business lines and learning new skills that we can use across the company. For this purpose we have created the Innovation Accelerators and the CommerceAccelerator is the third in the series so far.

We see three domains of opportunity for the future Sanoma. Firstly, we want to provide information and entertainment to consumers across multiple channels. Secondly we want to help advertisers with powerful marketing solutions based on our reach to consumers and insights into them.  And thirdly, we want to help to help pupils and teachers to achieve great learning outcomes using new learning solutions.

Winners go to bootcamp

Team leaders at the closing session

Team leaders at closing session

In Amsterdam last week we ran the bootcamp for the CommerceAccelerator – focusing on the advertising domain mentioned above. The top 5 ideas and their owners were selected in a live webinar to build prototypes of their concepts. This followed an inspiring program of ideation and training, of building and testing ideas, which started out with about 220 participants from across Sanoma and included about 70 university students.

Rich talent

Student team Weggle from Tampere

Student team Weggle from Tampere

We had an interesting and varied mix of talent amongst the team leaders, including people from business development, sales, product management, television and a student team from Tampere.  I like it a lot when we have such a diversity of experience and skills at the bootcamp: it makes for a rich and exciting experience!

Fast pace, strong delivery

I love the bootcamps. They are practical and fast paced. They’re very demanding but also a lot of fun. It’s great to have teams of talented and driven people working on building prototypes and testing them with real customers.  Making it happen!  I believe in learning by doing and this is a very concrete proof of that!


Listening to CEO Harri-Pekka Kaukonen kicking off the pitch session (for the sake of good order, I am tweeting that picture in this photo, I am not checking my mail during the speech :))

Listening to CEO Harri-Pekka Kaukonen kicking off the pitch session. (For the sake of good order, I am tweeting that picture in this photo, I am not checking my mail during the speech!)

We were joined by Sanoma’s CEO Harri-Pekka Kaukonen, CHRO Jackie Cuthbert and the CEO of Sanoma Learning Jacques Eijkens. They are all strong supporters of the accelerators. We appreciated that they joined us; they are all super-busy driving the transformation of Sanoma, but it is brilliant that they make the time to support the accelerators.  A great show of leadership!

Five prototypes

Listening with intent to the pitches. Amongst others, Harri-Pekka Kaukonen on the front row, and Jackie Cuthbert on the back row.

Listening with intent to the pitches. Amongst others, Harri-Pekka Kaukonen on the front row, and Jackie Cuthbert on the back row.

At the end of the day on Thursday each of the teams demonstrated their prototypes. They included i) a contextual and sentimental targeting service; ii) a pre-targeting service; iii) a mobile advertising service iv) a gamified service to engage viewers during TV commercial breaks and v) a shopping service bridging the real and virtual worlds. Some of the testing with customers has been quite brilliant and helped to underpin the commercial promise of the ideas. Great validation!  (I would like to show the promo video’s here, but feel it’s a bit premature at this stage).

Top teams

I really like and respect the passion and enthusiasm of the teams and am proud of how they have performed and behaved! This counts for the idea owners and the talented professionals from MakerLab.  And also for Lassi Kurkijärvi (@lassi, Director at Sanoma) and Joris van Heukelom (@jorisheuk, Partner at Makerstreet) who once again showed inspiring leadership throughout the program.  Great job everyone!

Next steps

We have promised the teams that we will inform them how we would like to proceed by the end of next week. There are three alternatives: i) create a new venture ii) develop within the business or iii) not pursue the opportunity. I am confident we will pursue some of these concepts and will engage with the key stakeholders to ensure that we will be able to bring them to market quickly!

The world turns of course, and we are working on developing the next accelerator which will focus on 4G and video and we aim to start in Q1 next year.  With the launch of our Innovation Lab in January (as part of the new unit Sanoma Digital), which will be led by our mobile superhero Lassi Kurkijärvi, the Innovation Accelerators have become a core element of our transformation program. I see the establishment of the Innovation Lab as a great validation of the success of the accelerators we have run so far.

I’ve been happy about the high level of support that we have won from top management and young talent. What I would like to develop further in upcoming accelerators is to secure more engagement from middle managers. I believe this would help us in transforming the core business.  If anyone has good ideas about how to achieve this, please drop me a line!