The main speakers, experienced in venture capital and large education technology companies, offered a number of insights about how to succeed as an education start-up and entrepreneur.
- Entrepreneurs try to do too much and make things too complicated. They do not spend enough time looking at the pain point they are trying to fix.
- One speaker told of visiting a school that had just been donated boxes of computers, but the school didn’t even know how to set them up or what to do with them. The point of the story is that it takes more than throwing technology at education. Furthermore, the schools and staff need to understand the value of technology in education.
- Many times we are trying to fit our solutions to problems instead of identifying and understanding the problem first. We should also try to identify larger problems to work with—think big.
- The majority of the panelists recommended a business (education company) to business (school), and business to business to consumer (parents/children), distribution channel for education technology as opposed to business to consumer. One of the reasons is that if the school recommends or requires a product, then the parents are more likely to buy it than on their own.
- If not going the business to business route, creativity in distribution is essential. Partnerships and bundling are great options. One panelists was very successful at selling his education product, a CDROM, by bundling it to be sold with Rin laundry soap. The majority of the time, the mother is the one that oversees her child’s education. She is also the one going to the store to buy laundry soap. Bundling the product with the something every mother uses regularly provides more visibility and chances of purchase.
- Technology entrepreneurs need to remember that PC penetration in Indian homes is still only at around 5%.
Following the panel of experts, the top nine startups pitched their product and the top three were chosen by the panel of judges. You can find an overview of the startups featured here.
I enjoyed the event overall given my interests in education, startups, and venture capital. My main concern, worth another post entirely, is that many edtech products are not accessible or realistic for low-income schools and communities. While the companies featured were primarily targeting a US market or higher education in India, there is a huge market for impactful edtech in low-income communities, if some clever entrepreneurs and politicians can figure out how to make their products accessible to that market in addition to making access to internet and technology-accomodating infrastructure possible.
I also noticed the lack of compelling stories and pitches by the founders, most of whom are engineers. Anyone experienced in pitch and public speaking training should immediately begin offering their services.