How hubs for ed-tech startups promote positive change in education

SchoolPRPro, Pixabay.com, CC0 1.0
SchoolPRPro, Pixabay.com, CC0 1.0

By 2030, the digitalization of the workplace will eradicate up to 800 million jobs. “If we do not change the way we teach, thirty years from now we will be in trouble,” said Jack Ma, CEO and founder of Alibaba, on the occasion of the WEF 2018 in Davos. Ed-tech startups are among the drivers of change in education and learning. They benefit from resources such as the EdTech Collider, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The education system – in both the public and private sectors – is a pillar of many countries’ economies, and will inevitably undergo changes in the future. The ed-tech sector, which encourages the use of technology in education and learning, plays a vital role in this context.

The Swiss EdTech Collider, a not-for-profit initiative located at the EPFL Innovation Park in Lausanne, is the first collaborative, membership-based coworking space in Switzerland and continental Europe that is dedicated exclusively to ed-tech. Inaugurated in April 2017, it has become a hub for startups and entrepreneurs seeking to transform education through technology by creating innovations for learning. At the time of the launch, 30 ed-tech startups had joined the Swiss EdTech Collider; today this community includes more than 75 startups.

What are they working on? Here are just a few examples of the innovations and programs these entrepreneurs are currently pursuing: a customizable learning management system for schools, software for children with dyslexia or dyscalculia, an app to reduce the administrative workload for kindergarten teachers, virtual-reality solutions for training hospital nurses, an online platform that offers micro-learning courses for corporations, an educational robot to teach coding in primary school, augmented-reality technology for learning about human anatomy, and an intelligent chatbot to promote employee engagement.

Seeking to connect educators and ed-tech solution providers

Obviously, there is no all-in-one-solution to meet every ed-tech need; the ed-tech sector is a highly fragmented market in which many different companies are developing and marketing products and services for various target groups and market niches in the education and learning sector.

Moreover, there is no official “ed-tech catalogue.” This not only makes it difficult for teachers and administrators to find a solution that suits their needs, it also requires them to interact with multiple players. This is where the Swiss EdTech Collider comes in. It brings startups together under one roof, which enhances visibility and creates a “catalogue-like” environment that allows educators to find and acquire appropriate solutions.

The purpose of the Swiss EdTech Collider is to support ed-tech entrepreneurs and startups as they seek to grow and find partners and customers. To that end, it has created a unique ecosystem consisting of a network of ed-tech investors, schools and other educational institutions, public and private organizations, subject matter experts, and the EPFL’s research divisions. In October 2018, the Swiss EdTech Collider also became part of the newly created EPFL LEARN – Center for Learning Sciences, an EPFL-based network of initiatives related to education and learning.

“There is no official ‘ed-tech catalogue.’ This not only makes it difficult for teachers and administrators to find a solution that suits their needs, it also requires them to interact with multiple players.”

With the exception of more established startups, such as Coorpacademy – the “Netflix” of corporate learning – and Labster, which produces VR lab simulations, most of the startups, especially the ones targeting public education, are still experiencing slow growth – at least in part because of the slow and tedious decision-making processes in this sector.

It is important to note that instead of focusing on profits, some startups aspire to have a long-term, sustainable impact by creating jobs and changing education for the better. This is true, for example, of Association Mobsya and its educational robot Thymio. More than 42,000 of these robots have already been purchased by schools and families.

While many startups in the ed-tech sector are still in the early stages of development, this sector is sure to have a profound impact on how we learn in the future – both within the school system and in our day-to-day work lives. The Swiss EdTech Collider and its startups are already playing a vital and active role in this context, and they will continue to do so.

The Swiss EdTech Collider is supported by the Jacobs Foundation, EPFL, Swisscom, CVCI, and Fondation Henri Moser.

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