Benoit Wirz, investment partner at Brighteye Ventures, highlights why the UK can lead the way in EdTech.
As digital access has grown across Europe over the last decade, technology has become more widely embedded in education at school, work and home.
Entrepreneurs have seized this opportunity to build an incredible array of learning tools, and the UK is leading the way, securing 40% of all European investment in EdTech since 2014. Standouts among British startups range from hardware companies like Kano, which builds computer and coding kits for kids to Memrise, a consumer language learning app for adults to Touch Surgery a simulation-based learning tool for surgeons.
Despite the €1.6bn that has been invested in European EdTech startups since 2014, it is still very early days in terms of applying technology to enhance the €5.5tn global education industry. Europe today presents a huge growth opportunity for EdTech companies, and the UK is one of the leading markets in this change.
Here are three strengths Britain should continue to leverage as a leading player in European EdTech.
Large school and university market with high digital penetration
The UK has the largest connected primary and secondary education market in Europe. Having devices and broadband access in the vast majority of British classrooms gives teachers the chance to take advantage of new learning tools and entrepreneurs the incentive to develop distribution to 24,000+ schools.
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Many EdTech tools are freemium products, which means teachers can adopt easily and teacher usage can help convince schools to pay. Companies like Wonde make access easier for EdTech entrepreneurs as they facilitate integration across student information systems and help schools to better manage the growing variety of EdTech apps.
The 150+ institutions in the UK university system can also act as fertile ground for EdTech entrepreneurs. University students and professors increasingly prefer blended learning experiences – where learning is delivered via a combination of in person and digital methods.
Many leading universities, including in the UK, are looking to expand their footprint by harnessing online education to grow domestically and overseas. The global reputation of UK higher education can provide strong validation for UK entrepreneurs who have had success domestically to expand overseas.
Key local industry partners
Although the publishing industry has had a rough couple of years, established academic and educational leaders like Pearson and Oxford University Press provide UK entrepreneurs with powerful global collaborators.
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UK educational and academic publishers saw collective sales of £2.7bn in 2016, up 10% year over year. Identifying successful digital tools to harness the demand for this content is a meaningful opportunity for UK EdTech startups.
Similarly, the UK is the digital marketing hub of Europe. Many EdTech startups are distributed direct to consumer and can leverage local expertise to build best in class direct distribution models, identifying the most efficient channels to acquire customers and grow.
Portability to the US, Europe & Commonwealth
Like all global businesses, the best EdTech startups will need to expand internationally regardless of where they start out. Because the UK has some similarity to other large English-speaking markets – distributed decision making in schools, similar purchasing power from consumers, large global corporate players – products developed in the UK and the distribution techniques developed for the UK market are more likely to be portable to those markets.
This is not to say that internationalization is easy. Many companies, both established and startup, have foundered on the road to global conquest. That said, the rewards for companies that can make the transition are huge. The US has 130,000 schools and 4,500 universities with similar levels of digital adoption. The EU has 40% more school students and a similar number of universities to the US, making it a huge, if more fragmented, market opportunity for education innovation. With its strong tech economy, high demand for tech skills and quality broadband infrastructure, the UK makes a great launching point for EdTech entrepreneurs looking to go in both directions.
EdTech may still be relatively early stage compared to other more established tech sectors, but the UK has a clear opportunity to take a leading role, leveraging its considerable strengths to lead the charge in penetrating the global market. Its reputation for higher education, a high digital penetration, strong local industry partners and powerful global position make it a strong contender to be the leader in fulfilling EdTech’s potential in Europe.