This year’s Summer Start-up Tour ‘SSUP! kicked off in June for the fourth year in a row. Each year, the Hoffmann Institute collaborates with ‘SSUP! students to support INSEAD MBA students touring global start-up ecosystems to learn from entrepreneurs at the cutting edge of business and walk-the-talk in their own impact projects.
In 2022, the Institute supported two teams focused on EdTech, the intersection where digital technology meets educational theory. This is the second installment in a two-part series featuring insights and experiences from the ‘SSUP Start-Up Tour 2022. We meet the Eternal Students team of four life-long learners who had extensive experience learning job-related skills, foreign languages, art and music, and even child rearing. They went on tour to see how EdTech can create long-lasting, positive and sustainable change.
Designing the Tour
The Eternal Students interviewed EdTech start-ups and investors in Europe, Asia and Americas to draw some geographic comparisons. Under the EdTech umbrella, they examined several areas such as language acquisition, coding and tech upskilling, learning platforms and art and music education. These were selected based on the team’s experience and interests.
In looking at these areas, they discovered that some cities have a handful of start-ups focusing on one topic. Berlin is the place for language acquisition start-ups, Amsterdam for coding/tech upskill and London for learning management platforms. The team was able to meet face-to-face with start-ups and investors in Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin, while conversations with London-based leaders were virtual due to visa constraints.
Meeting the Startups
In interviews with start-ups and VCs, the Eternal Students identified several key recurring trends in the EdTech industry – virtual reality and artificial intelligence, gamification of learning processes, personalization of education experiences and building communities.
One of the main challenges for any educator is to keep students engaged and focused. Attention span is getting shorter and shorter and traditional education methods need to be revised. The team met with start-ups creating virtual reality tools to revolutionize learning from schools to professional education. For example, Evaveo in Lyon is developing a number of VR courses, including a program to improve bicycle safety for postmen.
Artificial intelligence technology is also becoming an integral part of almost every educational platform, driving personalization the learning journey. Knowingo uses AI tools in a corporate education platform to determine the best moment to offer students new information, and PowerZ employs machine learning in an educational game that adapts to each young player’s level.
Gamification in education is another popular and proven way to increase student engagement in learning. Knowingo designs their courses as mobile game for employees, turning even boring subjects like compliance and routine onboarding into exciting experiences with elements of competition. PowerZ teaches kids math, French, cooking, yoga and more than other 15 subjects through Fortnite-quality gaming paired with efficient educational techniques.
Even in a digital world, mentorship is needed to for course completion, changing mindsets and honing soft skills. The team met with start-ups using human interaction to ensure progress. Lynx Educate provides training alongside a special coach program to accompany learners through each step of their journey. Mentors and progress evaluation ensure that all graduates of OpenClassrooms programs learn how to perform their new functions. Sparrks offers working professionals one-on-one coaching sessions to develop soft skills.
Many of these EdTech companies recognize that fully digitalized education can be an isolating experience, so they are developing options that would allow users to socialize and network. OpenClassrooms is exploring short-term group-based courses to open networking opportunities for students, while Studeo is implementing an option to study in groups. Due to risks associated in apps designed for kids, PowerZ restricts communication to groups of seven users who can only use in-game emojis.
Measuring the Impact
There was a time when the north star for a start-up focused on higher valuation, bigger scope and faster growth. However, as the world economy faces headwinds and global fundraising is slowing down in 2022, investors and start-up founders are now shifting back to the fundamentals – what value can we create for the general public.
For EdTech startups, a good way to measure value-add is through Return on Education, a concept defined by leading global EdTech investor GSV. Return on Education is composed of three dimensions:
- Wider accessibility – Even in the digital era there is still a need to democratize high-quality education for under-served communities
- Lower cost of education – Cost remains a barrier to education access for low-income students, including freemium and subscription costs
- Positive learning outcome – Quantifiable learning outcomes are the best proof of success but students also need to define their own success
In addition to running a successful business, every EdTech start-up should aim for at least of one of those three dimensions if not all three.
Breaking Down Misconceptions
Team Eternal Students found the SSUP Tour to be rewarding experience. At the start of the tour, the team had a few preconceptions that later proved wrong. They first thought the EdTech industry is predominantly K-12 focused. Yet the tour shined a light on a wide variety of start-ups designing solutions for job-seeking young people, for mid-careers business professionals, for farmers, nurses and even for the general public. The more people the team spoke to, the more they saw that EdTech spans from Pre-K to Gray with high growth potential especially in adult and professional training.
The team also had the preconception that parental obligation to educate children and individual aspiration to succeed in professional career are the two major drivers for EdTech. They discovered that in Europe, government policy is an equally important third driver that creates enormous opportunities for EdTech in the region. Collaborating with government initiatives allows start-ups to access public funding, scale up services more easily and achieve lower cost of education.
These takeaways give the Eternal Students team insights and inspiration for the direction to take their own careers. It also shows the value of the SSUP Summer Start-Up Tour and connecting students with start-ups at the cutting edge of innovation.
In the first part of this two-part series on the ‘SSUP 2022 Summer Start-up Tour, we meet team No Student Left Behind and explored incentives and ingredients to provide equal education to underserved children. The Hoffmann Institute looks forward to next year’s SSUP Start-Up Tour.