Category Archives: Start-Up

Slush 2014 – Shaping The Future Of Learning

In November last year I was a keynote speaker in the edtech session at the startup meeting Slush in Helsinki.  I was excited about participating.  I love the positive energy of entrepreneurs, it’s a great place for networking and inspiring to hear the new ideas.  And as continental Europe’s biggest edtech company in the K-12 space, Sanoma Learning is keen to play a full role in helping to bring new solutions to schools and to support the startup community that can help to accelerate such innovations.

I truly enjoyed the event.  It was rather huge and slightly scary on that stage!  You can check out my keynote here.

▶ Slush 2014 – Shaping The Future Of Learning | Green Stage #slush14 – YouTube.

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The killer app in education is the teacher

edtech-logoLast week the second EdTech Europe meeting was held in London. It was an inspiring day and attracted high quality participants including quite a large audience of start-ups, established operating companies and investors. Thanks to Charles McIntyre, CEO of IBIS Capital and Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet, Founding CEO of Edxus Group, for having arranged this excellent meeting!

I was a speaker on one of the panels and also a member of the Advisory Board, so I was happy it was a success. I loved engaging with the entrepreneurs running the edtech ventures. It’s inspiring to hear their stories and feel their energy. And it was also a great networking event for meeting peers from across Europe.

Technology, platform, content, data?

This was a meeting about educational technology, so there was rightly a lot of discussion about the transformation of education and the roles that technology, platforms, content and data will play. What will be the “killer app” of education in the future?

The killer app in education today is the teacher

Today I believe that the “killer app” of K-12 education is the teacher. Great teachers engage individuals and classes, ensuring that they are motivated to learn. They stretch and support individual pupils so that they reach the best learning outcome they can. And they guide the ways of working such that learning time is spent usefully.

Technology will both enable and disrupt teachers in the future

Effective use of technology, platforms, content and data can help to raise learning outcomes (e.g. data-driven personalised learning), bring efficiency to the ways of working (e.g. automation and performance dashboards), and support engagement and motivation (e.g. gamification and storyfication). The teacher is therefore likely to get both enabled and disrupted by technology in the future.

Yet although the role of the teacher will change, I believe they will remain the “killer app” of education in the future too. They are likely to remain the leader of the classroom. They will probably more-or-less remain as the primary guide and gatekeeper to the learning activities that are carried out. And their relationship with classes and individual pupils will remain pivotal to engagement and motivation.

Enable teachers to develop each child

Our ambition is to use edtech to enable teachers to excel at developing the talents of every child, resulting in higher outcomes, better engagement and new ways of working. That’s something I believe in and would be keen to invest in.

Where are the giants of edtech in K-12 education in Europe?

We’re committed to playing a leading role in renewing education for the next generation and believe we can add value by supporting pupils and teachers on three fronts:

– Achieving excellent learning outcomes
– Enabling efficient ways of working, and
– Supporting engagement and motivation.

Technology can be a key enabler on making progress on each of these three fronts, Today, Sanoma Learning is one of Europe’s leading edtech companies, with roughly € 40 M of pure-play digital and € 100 M of multi-channel sales.

We’re ambitious and like to partner with and acquire other edtech companies to help us to support customers on the three fronts mentioned above. Significant amounts of money are being spent on education each year, of the order of 6% of GDP. This is approximately € 800 bn per year in the EU: the market is sizeable and K-12 is a big slice of that. Yet there are relatively few edtech companies established on the continent today that generate more than € 25 M of annual sales. To be honest, I couldn’t name 10 off the top of my head.

Plenty of talent, ideas and capital

IBIS Capital estimates that there are approximately 3,000 e-learning ventures in Europe today. These companies employ a lot of entrepreneurial talent, many of them working on potentially high-impact ideas. Also, it seems to me that it’s not impossibly difficult to find funding for promising edtech ventures. In the USA in Q1/2014 about $ 500 M was committed in new funding to 99 edtech ventures – the biggest quarter for the last five years.

“The market is rich enough in talent, ideas and venture funding.”

So why hasn’t this large and transforming market in K-12 education spurred the growth of a handful of European edtech giants?

To be frank, I don’t know. Let’s start by looking at the context for K-12 education in Europe today. The great majority of the money in the market is spent (directly or indirectly) by the government through schools, many of which are not yet ready for e-learning. Also, the great majority of overall funding is spent on the salaries of teachers; this is absolutely right – teachers are the most critical factor in providing excellent education.

Within this context I think there are probably three main reasons that make it difficult for an edtech giant to emerge from the European continent on the short term:

1. A rather immature ecosystem
A well-functioning e-learning ecosystem can be built if we can make progress on four dimensions in schools: i) a clear vision on what we want to achieve and committed leadership to make it happen ii) good ICT infrastructure iii) availability of content and software and iv) teachers equipped with the skills to get ICT to work for them and their pupils. Although good progress has been made in many countries on many of those dimensions in the last ten years, most of these ecosystems are still relatively immature. In many ways progress needs to be made on each of these dimensions simultaneously in order for the ecosystem to flourish. There are a lot of data available on this. To name one important element – today there are of the order of 5 devices per household in northern Europe but five pupils per workstation at school. The home is a much more advanced digital ecosystem than the school. Surely this is just a matter of timing? Maybe BYOD tablets will provide the impulse the ecosystem needs? In any case, the early stage of the ecosystem hinders the adoption of educational technology.

2. Long sales cycles but narrow sales windows
The great majority of spending on education in Europe is channelled through institutions. Most of those institutions are organised around an annual cycle. Sales processes into them tend to be long and complex and the window of opportunity rather narrow. If your service is great, but you are not well-positioned to make the sale, the opportunity can be lost until the next year, or for many years. This can be killing for start-ups managing their monthly burn rate and can be a big disincentive to some investors and entrepreneurs.

3. Lack of scale
The final area that is probably hindering the emergence of new European edtech giants is the lack of scale in the market. Education systems tend to be organised very locally and can be prone to political influence. There are relatively few things that scale across multiple countries. Even if your business does brilliantly well in one country, it will be very hard to capture that same position across the continent. Edtech ventures from the USA or China enjoy a clear advantage, with large home markets that can attract significant funding.

How can we improve?

Europe has many natural advantages in the edtech space. For example, it’s home to some world-class education systems such as Finland and there’s a rich start-up scene in a number of leading cities. There’s also a reliable and significant commitment to spending on education.

I’m sure there are lots of smart options about taxes and skills and common standards and so on that the EU is working on in building a big single European market, and I imagine many of those things will help. In addition to that I would like to see us getting more proactive as an industry in two areas. Firstly, it would be good to get more transparency on the market. Which of these new ventures are really starting to fly? Initiatives such as Edtech Europe and Sanoma’s Start-up Challenge help, but are not enough. It’s hard (but not impossible 🙂 ) to see the wood for the trees amongst the 3,000 of today. Who should we partner with? And secondly, are there ways for us to create a European network that can bring scale to the market so that we can more rapidly deploy new technology for the benefit of our customers?

I’m interested to hear your views on this. Feel free to drop me a line if you have inspired ideas.

Looking forward >>

Labster wins Sanoma’s start-up challenge on future of learning at TNW Europe

Mads Bonde, CEO of Labster, pitching at TNW

Mads Bonde, CEO of Labster, pitching at TNW

Last Friday at TNW Europe, Labster (www.labster.com) won Sanoma’s start-up challenge on the future of learning. Congratulations to Mads Bonde and the Labster team on winning not only € 25,000 but also eternal fame!

Labster runs 3D virtual labs in the life sciences and allows students to run their own experiments in a concept inspired by flight simulation. They claim their labs are effective in teaching theory, cost 1/10 of a physical lab, help to motivate pupils and yield rich learning analytics for teachers. They have been working together with leading institutions including UC Berkeley, Stanford University Online High School, University of Copenhagen, University of Hong Kong and Novo Nordisk and are currently used by more than 10,000 students worldwide.

Alongside Labster from Denmark, four other promising edtech start-ups pitched for the crown in Amsterdam, including:

i) Eduvee (www.eduvee.com) from England – an intuitive learning and tutoring platform that integrates and delivers personalised curriculum-mapped content to learners on any device
ii) DragonBox by We Want to Know (www.wewanttoknow.com) from Norway – a fun, game-based solution for learning maths
iii) Jumpido (www.jumpido.com) from Bulgaria – a game re-imagining education through games combining physical exercise with engaging maths problems, and
iv) EduKey’s Class Charts (www.classcharts.com) from Wales – a behavioural data solution supporting teachers in identifying how students interact with eachother and how this impacts their learning.

We chose Labster as winner of the challenge for two reasons:
i) excellent potential impact on the future of education, showing good proof-points on learning results, cost efficiency and engagement, and
ii) a strong “make it happen” team

We were really impressed by the quality of all five of these start-ups – they all did themselves proud in the pitching and we had a heated discussion about which of them would be the ultimate winner. Thanks to you all for having joined the challenge – you are all winners!

Sanoma sponsored this initiative since we are determined to take an innovative position in creating the future of education. We were delighted to have attracted more than 100 edtech startups from 24 countries across Europe. I also appreciated the good collaboration between Sanoma Learning, SanomaVentures and VentureScout in running a successful and spirited challenge: thanks to the teams for making this happen!