The interest in and activity around entrepreneurship has exploded in recent years, including in the Nordics/Baltics. And while edtech is still a relatively small piece of the startup industry, it has been growing in numbers of edtech startups as well as the total amount of investment capital going into the emergent edtech industry. According to the research firm CB Insights, venture and equity financing for edtech start-ups worldwide rocketed to $2.98 billion last year, up from about $1.87 billion in 2014, compared to a total of $128.6 billion for total funding to VC backed companies in 2015. But we must be cautious about projecting, and especially about extrapolating, this into the future, particularly for 2016 as the overall tech sector in Silicon Valley (and elsewhere) shows signs of cooling off, and we should not expect edtech to go unaffected by these larger trends. Q1-2016 numbers from CB Insights already show some “cooling off” in edtech, so it will be interesting to see how much, and for how long, a slow-down will continue.
My interest in edtech goes back many years, as I have been involved in education, learning and training related research and consulting at Strategic Business Insights (a spinout from SRI International) for more than 15 years. And when I started seeing growing edtech activity in Silicon Valley, including the growing interest in edtech by students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, I started wondering whether the same trends and developments were present in the Nordic region. I raised this question with my friends at Nordic Innovation—a funding agency for applied research in the Nordic region—and the result was funding for the 2012/13 Nordic Edupreneuring project, “owned” by the Future Learning Lab at University of Agder UiA.
In the Nordic Edupreneuring project, we identified, profiled, and evaluated around 50 Nordic EdTech companies and also held a “market acceleration workshop” in connection with the annual Future Learning Lab conference held at UiA in April, 2013 [the next, and fifth, conference will be held in Norway on June 14-16 [http://wls.futurelearninglab.org/], and edtech will be one of our three tracks]. We found many interesting companies and some of the Nordic edtech companies that are getting considerable media attention these days, such as Kahoots and WriteReader, were at our UiA workshop. Many of the 50 companies we examined had interesting technologies and products/services, but many lacked the focus and global market intelligence and understanding needed to go up against international competitors.
We also found that all the Nordic edupreneurs we talked to were very keen on connecting with other edupreneurs in other Nordic countries, and knew relatively little about what was going on in the Nordic countries other than their own. This pointed to an obvious need and gap to be filled, and the idea of a Nordic EdTech Network (NEN) and community was born. For 2-3 years, every time I visited Oslo, I stopped by Nordic Innovation and argue the case for a project that would build on and extend what we did in the Nordic Edupreneuring project. When the former Managing Director of Nordic Innovation, Roger Moe Bjorgan (the new Managing Director, a former Danish Minister, Carina Christensen, took over from Bjorgan in October, 2015), visited Silicon Valley in June, 2015, we finally were given a “green light” and asked to submit a project proposal, followed by a decision in October to fund the project (“owned” by Silicon Vikings). I have to admit that the subsequent process involved in getting the signed contract—which would make the project “official” so we could really start the work—took a LOT longer than any of us expected and was, of course, also very frustrating, and exactly a year after Roger Bjorgan gave us the green light, the signed contract was completed, so we can now accelerate the work. You can read more about the project, the team we have, and the activities, resources and plans we have, by visiting our website.
Very briefly, this is some of what we are planning for the project:
- Documenting the existing Nordic EdTech landscape. For this, we need details on the players in each of the Nordic countries. We are just now launching this work, but we are happy to share some of the data we currently have—http://net.futurelearninglab.org/nordic-edtech-companies-work-in-progress/—so anyone can see what we have and (hopefully) let us know what corrections/deletions/additions we need to make. We look forward to hearing from anyone who have information and/or comments and observations (and contact information for all team members are on the project website).
- Examining Nordic Industry Dynamics and Emergent Ecosystem. This kind of analysis will, of course, require much more data and information about the Nordic EdTech companies and players in the evolving ecosystem, so we can not only understand their evolution so far, but also start exploring what may lie ahead. We suspect that these insights will come in the second half of 2016.
- Share Nordic EdTech Insights. We will do this in many ways, including via our blog, our podcasts (with interviews of prominent EdTech entrepreneurs from the Nordics and Silicon Valley, as well as other EdTech ecosystem players, such as insightful analysts). We will also have webinars with the same kind of players, and these webinars will give attendees a chance to interact with the speakers.
- Encouraging and Enabling Nordic EdTech Interaction. Some of this will happen via our website, but we will also plan to have a number of (physical) F2F events, including at upcoming conferences in the Nordics, including the annual conference at UiA, i.e. the World Learning Summit 2016 [http://wls.futurelearninglab.org/]
- Creating a Sustainable Nordic EdTech Community. Although our project lasts until June 2017, we are confident that one or more of a number of highly qualified organizations—including, the Future Learning Lab—will be able to take over leadership and guidance of the network at the conclusion of our project.
We look greatly forward to the year ahead and the work we will be involved in and the many insights we will hopefully generate as our data and understanding of the Nordic EdTech industry improves. And it will be interesting to look back and compare this year’s findings to what we learned in the Nordic Edupreneuring project. Just briefly, here are some of the conclusions from that project, which I presented at the Future Learning Lab conference in 2013 at University of Agder (UiA) in 2013:
- Almost 60% or the companies that participated in our survey characterized themselves as focusing on game-based learning, followed by mobile learning and online learning tools
- Most companies targeted multiple market segments—including K12, HE, Kindergarten, corporate and public sector—but such multi-sector targeting is usually highly problematic
- Similarly, most companies also targeted countries in Europe, North America and Asia—another VERY challenging strategy (that risks running out of funds very rapidly)
- The Nordic Edurpreneuring project found the Future Challenges for Nordic EdTech companies to include those shown in the box below:
While the project team is very knowledgeable about EdTech and the Nordic region, the project analysis and insights we generate during the year will be very much stronger if we gain strong participation from anyone who is knowledgeable about and active in the Nordic EdTech industry, many of whom are likely on the front lines of the industry, and perhaps already active nationally, regionally and globally. Hearing about your experiences and having others pitch in and comment on what you experience, see and hear will help grow the collective strength of the Nordic EdTech community as well as the strength of individual players. We look forward to hearing from you and interacting with you in various ways in 2016 and beyond.