The Edtech Entrepreneurs Disrupting The Way We Learn

The digital revolution is transforming the education sector. Instead of textbooks, students are using online platforms for learning. And instead of attending a class when they want to study a new language, they are downloading an app.

Global education technology (edtech) is one of the fastest growing sectors, expected to be worth $252 billion by 2020, according to EdTechXGlobal, with a diverse population of startups disrupting traditional education, as we know it.

Sparx Maths

A personalized learning platform that supports students aged between 11 and 16, Sparx Maths bridges the gap between technology and traditional teaching methods.

Using 43 million data points, 35,000 handwritten questions and 8,300 tutorial videos, Sparx Maths personalizes learning based on student behavior. Harnessing machine learning and AI, it ensures each student is appropriately challenged and delivers real-time insights to teachers allowing them to focus their intervention.

The business was founded in 2010 by statistician Mark Dixon, whose empathy as a parent and understanding of maths students’ anxieties, spurred him to create Sparx, with the goal of improving numeracy through radical research and data.

Based on eight years’ research with UK schools, there is evidence that Sparx Maths increases confidence and progress in maths for learners. In turn this allows teachers to provide tailored support and intervention, which increases the effectiveness of their teaching in every maths lesson.

“Sparx Maths saves teachers on average five hours per week, by planning, marking and reviewing lessons and homework,” says Dixon. “Students make 65% more progress using Sparx, while homework completion rates have soared, in one case, from 20% to 95% after implementing Sparx.”

The company recently secured a £20 million ($25 million) investment from Oxygen House, which followed an initial £30 million ($38 million), also from Oxygen House, which helped establish and develop Sparx.

Blackbullion

This edtech startup has been equipping students with the financial skills they need for university and beyond, and works with a number of universities, including King’s College London, Manchester University, and Central Queensland University, to provide financial education to students.

Founder Aussie-raised Vivi Friedgut spent the early part of her career managing the wealth of high net worth families and individuals. It was that work that made her question what could be achieved if financial education became more accessible.

She launched Blackbullion as an e-learning SaaS platform in London in 2014 and has made a significant progress in widening participation cohorts, especially for first-in-family and marginalized students. Increasingly, the proprietorial tech platform is forming a major part of university retention strategies.

“By embedding learning across different student touch points, from scouring scholarships and student loans through to supporting international students, and by shifting mindset, we can create a sustainable impact,” says Friedgut.

Over 700,000 students in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand currently have access to the platform and the goal is to reach a million users by 2021.

Blackbullion has secured a total of £1 million investment, including a £400,000 pre-seed round that closed in February this year. Friedgut recently won the GES Awards semi-final (Global Edtech Startup) and will represent the U.K. in the finals at next year’s BETT show.

Chatterbox

Refugees all over the world find themselves unemployed and marginalized in the labour market, yet an estimated 20% have degrees and higher levels of education than others in the population where they are living.

Chatterbox is an online language school that trains refugees as foreign language tutors and connects them with students and professionals all over the world. It was founded by Mursal Hedayat, herself a refugee from war torn Afghanistan, who settled in the U.K. with her mother, a civil engineer who spoke four languages but nonetheless struggled to find work.

Chatterbox helps people in a similar situation by offering them work as online language tutors. Refugees are found through partners such as the Refugee Council, the Red Cross, and Citizens UK, and are provided digital tools including online booking and video classrooms.

Since launching in 2016 Chatterbox has raised over $1 million in funding from Bethnal Green Ventures, All Turtles and Guardian Media Group Ventures.

Aula Education

Working with institutions on both sides of the Atlantic like Coventry University, University of Glasgow, and Portland State University, Aula Education wants to transform the way that digital technology is used for university teaching.

The company was founded in 2016 by Anders Krohn, Oliver Nicolini, and Adrian Franklin and launched its first institutional partnership in 2017 with Ravensbourne University London.

Two years later, Aula – the name means a large place where people come together - is partnering and piloting with large institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, including Coventry University, University of Glasgow, and Portland State University.

Inspired by tools such as WhatsApp and Slack, Aula provides a social learning platform that acts like a digital extension of the classroom.

With Aula, the days of the Learning Management System (LMS), a clunky virtual filing cabinet where learning does not happen, used by almost all universities, could be over.

Its vision is to be what the LMS always should have been: a space for a community of learners to connect and engage.

“Institutions are seeing students engage 2.3 times as much with Aula as they did with their learning management system,” says CEO Krohn. “Engagement and a sense of community are key ingredients to ensuring that students are successful and there is significant scope to improve graduation rates across the global higher education sector.”

The company has raised £6 million ($7.4 million) from a combination of venture capital funds and angel investors that include Paris-based Brighteye Ventures, Berlin-based Project A, and London-based Emerge Education, and Nordic Makers angel investors.

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I'm a freelance journalist, founder of Coleman Media. For the last 20 years I’ve covered business stories for national and international online and print publications,

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