When I prepared for our Silicon Vikings event last August on Building and Using Immersive Environments (i.e. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality), a friend suggested I check out and talk to the folks at GreenLightVR in San Francisco. I did, and also had a meeting with the Founder and CEO, Clifton Dawson, who explained how they have developed tools (software algorithms) that enable very efficient and fast searching of information and data on the Internet. The result is that they have one of the best and updated views of the current VR industry and reportedly “track thousands of companies in the virtual reality industry and turn our data into insights for innovating companies.” So, if I were a VR investor, or a VC with strong interest in VR (an industry which is VERY hot right now, as you can see from all the great social media posts of my good friend Christian Olsson (our Director of Social Media), I would not hesitate to take advantage of the services that GreenLightVR offers. Of course, I didn’t have the budget to do so for our one-time event on VR, so I have not had the opportunity to test out their service.
Case of Nordic EdTech Company Discovery
What I learned from what GreenLightVR has been doing suddenly gained much greater relevance for me when we—Silicon Vikings—was recently awarded a project, from Nordic Innovation; a Nordic research funding agency, with HQ in Oslo), to create a Nordic EdTech Network (the actual proposal referred to a “Nordic Virtual EdTech Accelerator Forum” and in a future post I will describe this in more detail and refer to our project website we are now building to serve as a “hub” of information about the project and the Nordic EdTech community we will be building).
While we are planning to provide a range of information and data services for and about Nordic EdTech companies and ecosystem players, a core part of the project is to discover/identify as many EdTech companies as we can in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, and to characterize the existing Nordic EdTech landscape (and, we hope, examine its dynamics and evolution over time). This is a tall order, especially for a project with a very modest budget.
Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch. Three years ago, another project, Nordic Edupreneuring (“owned” by The Future Learning Lab (FLL) at University of Agder (UiA), in southern Norway), did similar work, and in that project we identified (mostly via social media and word-of-mouth), profiles and evaluated around 50 Nordic EdTech companies, and also held an “acceleration workshop” at UiA, in connection with a FLL conference held at the university. This meant we had around 10-12 EdTech companies identified from each of the major Nordic countries, as well as some from Estonia (which we included in the project, as we feel our friends in Estonia, and the other two Baltic states, are (increasingly) part of the Nordic region, even if they are not formally part of Nordic Innovation and the Nordic Council of Ministers, who fund Nordic Innovation).
Since the project ended, I have continued to collect information on an informal basis, and I recently also received a long list of Finnish companies (from a survey project done for Tekes—the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation) that reportedly are active, in one way or another, in “EdTech.”
A New, Promising Discovery Tool: Funderbeam (Estonia)
As I pondered how we could find new Nordic EdTech companies that are out there, but unknown to us, I was hoping to find a company that was doing something like what GreenLightVR was doing for VR, that we could use to find Nordic EdTech companies. I was fortunate in finding an Estonian startup company, Funderbeam whose impressive set of tools has features such as:
- Profiles on more than 150,000 startups and 20,000 investors worldwide. This allows a company to check what competitors are out there, what they look like, and what valuation estimates are for these companies.
- Tools that allow you to conduct filtered search, applying a variety of filters such as location, industry, sector, etc.
- Company profiles that enable benchmarking of your company against others.
If I were a startup in FinTech, for instance, which is pretty well defined industry with lots of new players, I would definitely want to use Funderbeam’s tools as part of my “business intelligence arsenal.” But what about EdTech, and what was my experience in using the tools for the period that the company graciously offered me to use their tools for free to see how useful it could be for our project?
First of all, “EdTech” is an “industry” that is not (yet) well defined, at least with well agreed-upon definitions and boundaries. Getting more clarity around how to best define and “bound” the industry will no doubt become something we will deal with in the project, but here is what I personally see as being included in “EdTech”:
- First of all, the tech part means that we are interested in applications of a wide range of technologies that can help enable more effective learning, and/or lower the cost of creating learning materials as well as managing, storing and (easily) distributing these learning materials.
- These tools and technologies—increasingly having some connection to the Internet or Web—may also be such that they enable individual learners to create, find, distribute and use a wide range of learning materials, increasingly “rich content” that may include multimedia, such as video, audio, simulation, or perhaps virtual reality, augmented reality, or virtual worlds.
- While many EdTech firms focus on “schools”, which mostly include K12, there are also lots of interesting EdTech needs and opportunities in consumer markets (for instance, where parents buy game-based learning apps for young children), higher education (universities and colleges) as well as industry and government. So, lots of segments and sectors, each with their own characteristics.
This complexity raises challenges when I tried to use the various search filters of Funderbeam. When I tried to apply a number of different filters, the result was very few hits. But when I decided to “go back to basics” and do things as straight forward and simply as possible, and use only two filters: “HQ” (and running separate searches for each country) and “education” as the “industry filter” (even though this might not get us technology-focused players we are looking for and may include companies that do interesting things, but with more conventional, non-tech tools and methods), these were the results I found:
- A total of 189 Nordic EdTech/education companies (including interesting and useful information on each of them, in the Funderbeam company profile that was provided)
- Norway: 20 companies
- Sweden: 39 companies
- Denmark: 42 companies
- Finland: 82 companies
- Iceland: 6 companies
Overall, I sense that the total number for the Nordic region may not be too far out of line with what we might find when we do a more careful analysis of the data we currently have, and update it with new data coming in. And the relative number of companies per country may also be fairly well aligned with what one might expect. But, we also have initial signs that these numbers are underestimating the number of Nordic EdTech companies, especially if we include EdTech operations in large companies, such as publishing companies, for instance.
The data situation in Finland may illustrate the underestimate of Funderbeam, as the Tekes data, which came from this source, lists 201 companies—far exceeding the 82 we found through Funderbeam. It is unclear why the Funderbeam tools didn’t find many of these companies that the Tekes survey included but once we have finished our own analysis, we might have some answers to this question.
I have not spent sufficient time to examine and analyze the commonalities and differences in the way Funderbeam, GreenLightVR, StartupBlink, Hoodin, and others discover companies and what “value-added” services (including visualization tools to display results) they offer. Hoodin is a Swedish startup which has tools that “gathers content from social media, traditional media and API’s of relevance” and deliver aggregated data in visual ways to make it easy to gain new insights. It uses emerging technology tools as well as the Internet infrastructure to quickly and efficiently do “information and data discovery” (including news items that relate to companies you are interested in) that otherwise would take a great deal of time and money. If you are interested in these types of issues, please check out Silicon Vikings page of all Nordic startup databases and maps here.
Unfortunately, our current project does not have the budget to allow for the kind of use of tools some of the “business discovery and intelligence” companies provide. However, Funderbeam stands out by offering a very low cost option: 12EUR/14USD monthly fee – which is quite affordable, even for startups that typically operate on very lean budgets. I suspect that EdTech may be a challenging “industry” to apply these new tools and services to, at least today. So, we will likely apply more conventional and traditional, and more labor intensive (rather than sophisticated technology-enabled) methods, i.e. applying more “elbow grease” to the problem, but perhaps with assistance of Funderbeam’s low-cost tools. At some future point, however, especially if we have budgets that allow testing some of the technology tools and methods of other players in this field, then we may venture into more expansive explorations around these issues.
What is your experience with these kinds of tools and technologies? Funderbeam, in particular, gives new users a week’s free trial with its platform, and I would highly recommend you try it out and if you do (or if you decide to subscribe to its services), please use the comment function in this blog platform to share your experience with us and other readers.