In June, the 2022 Summer Start-up Tour ‘SSUP! kicked off for the fourth consecutive year. The Hoffmann Institute collaborates with ‘SSUP! student leadership to open opportunities for INSEAD MBA students to tour global startup ecosystems, learn from entrepreneurs at the cutting edge of business and walk-the-talk in their impact projects.
This year, the Hoffmann Institute supported two teams working on EdTech, the intersection of digital technology and educational theory. In the first of a two-part series featuring insights and experiences from the ‘SSUP Tour, we meet the No Student Left Behind team. Sarah Kreik, Pallavi Kaul, Ilia Villanueva Garcia and Michele Soeryadjaya went on a mission to identify EdTech opportunities to reach and educate underserved youth worldwide.
The team focused on vulnerable communities such as children with migrant backgrounds and little or no social network in European countries. Their tour took them to meet start-ups in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and France.
Over the past few years, EdTech start-ups gained a huge amount of traction in terms of investment and growth. However, the K-12 segment of EdTech seems to lag. Why is education still unreachable to certain students when it seems so easy to scale through technology? Why has K-12 EdTech only received 1% of total VC funding worldwide? How can we create financial incentives for founders to introduce revolutionary technology to an industry tied to public institutions?
These are all questions team No Student Left Behind explored when they embarked on the ‘SSUP tour. The team wanted to see how EdTech can bridge the gap in education in underserved communities.
On their tour, the team met with founders and investors to explore these questions. Touring Europe, they went to Amsterdam, Berlin, London, and Paris.
The tour kicked off with Revisely founder Jeroen Fransen. Revisely helps teachers provide high-quality, efficient grading and feedback to students on homework and projects. Outlining the Revisely business model, Jeroen shared a four-step plan where the last step is offering support to children in underserved countries. The team realized that many EdTech founders begin with the goal of making quality education accessible to all communities, but many cannot feasibly do so unless their business has scaled and attained a certain degree of success.
The team also met with founders that are redefining modern education. The Tomorrow University of Applied Sciences approaches online higher education differently, with focus on delivering the full university experience and atypical disciplines that are increasingly important for today’s world. Founder and CEO Christian Rebernik shared how Tomorrow University uses technology to create a new learning experience that integrates rather than replaces in-person interactions while democratizing access to quality education.
Anywyse is another creative solution for accessible education. Founder Julien Jukema looked at the podcast trend with university students and saw opportunity for a new way to learn by listening. The platform offers student-created sound clips that encourage memorization through repetition and structure. This makes learning convenient and accessible to those with disabilities such as dyslexia, and it comes at an affordable price.
Team No Student Left Behind on tour
While founders create education technology solutions, team No Student Left Behind wondered why these solutions do not gain traction in the real world. After speaking to founders, the noticed that many initially target schools through B2B sales models. These entrepreneurs soon realize that schools are virtually unavailable as customers, making sales difficult and investors hesitant. Lack of access to impactful buyers such as school districts and public contracts can prevent innovators from scaling up and expanding the reach of quality education.
Given this, founders shifted models to ensure funding and financial viability for their start-ups, especially in early-stage companies. The No Student Left Behind team looked at the other possibilities.
Many start-ups try to create demand with parents, which seems easier and more efficient than focusing on schools. Parents are more likely to spend money on extra- and intra-curricular educational services if they believe it will benefit their children’s success. This often translates to shorter sales cycles and higher volume, which makes investors happy.
Some start-ups have gotten creative. Solenne Bocquillon-Le Goaziou founded Softkids, a French start-up focused on cultivating soft skills to increase children’s chance of success. She used her HR experience to market her product to corporate firms as an essential part of a parental benefits package for employees. Maintaining a B2B model but selling to corporate firms as opposed to educational institutions helped avoid long sales cycles while still being able to benefit from corporate B2B sales contracts.
These approaches benefit the financial viability of an EdTech start-up, but questions remain regarding how to bridge the gap in education for underserved students. Some students that are falling behind due to systemic failures in providing equal education resources, which is not resolved by the B2C or corporate B2B sales.
Selling direct to schools may be the best way to achieve impact, and some companies are making it work. Bettermarks is an adaptive mathematics learning platform for teachers. Founder Arndt Kiakowski was not deterred by the long cycles in B2B sales. Under Germany’s Digital Strategy 2025, he grew Bettermarks by acquiring contracts and licenses with public schools in Germany.
Public funding and support were key factors for success for Bettermarks. As more countries push for digitalization of educational systems, this B2B model may face less resistance for EdTech companies. And surely, providing teachers with tools to better teach and manage students has great potential to deliver impact.
Given all insights gained, the No Student Left Behind team learned three key ingredients for providing equal education to underserved children through EdTech – motivation, creativity and public support. These factors currently exist and need to be reflected in EdTech companies’ missions and business models. In doing so, EdTech start-ups can create true social impact and help educate the next generation of leaders.
In the second edition of this two-part series on the ‘SSUP 2022 Summer Start-up Tour, we meet the Eternal Students team and explore EdTech opportunities in languages, coding, upskilling and coaching.