The education space in India attracted an estimated 40 investments across deal sizes and stages in 2015, and continues to draw a wide range of creative minds and committed entrepreneurs. To promote more such initiatives, experts from edtech advisory firm Sylvant and investors from Unitus Seed Fund offered useful tips on market assessment, product-market fit strategies and pitching techniques to two dozen startups at the Bengaluru edition of StartEdu 2016 (see my earlier coverage of the first and second EduThon 2015 events).
A joint initiative by Unitus Seed Fund and Sylvant, StartEdu is a nationwide programme to identify, incubate and invest in early-stage education and edtech startups. Launched in December 2014, the initiative has had three editions with participation from over 250 Indian companies.
The fourth edition of StartEdu includes two-day bootcamps in five cities across India, from which 20 companies will be handpicked. They will get access to mentorship on growth strategies from industry players such as S.Chand Publishers, Pearson Affordable Learning Fund and Integra. The final winners can also pitch for seed-round investments from Unitus of up to Rs 3 crore.
The first bootcamp of 2016, held in Hyderabad in May, saw over 30 participating startups, and another two dozen signed up for the Bengaluru edition (with TiE Bangalore as a partner). The bootcamp was structured around questions of problem definition, solutioning and scaling, along with talks, experience sharing sessions, peer learning through group discussions, and personal reflections.
The Bengaluru participants included startups from the K-12, higher education, vocational training and corporate training sectors. Their offerings include personalised assessments, VR content, parent engagement, gamification, soft skills development, digital libraries, student networking, test preparation, procurement marketplaces, learning analytics, language tools, internship location, and real-time scenario engagement.
Assessment and actions: 10 key questions
Unitus and Sylvant offer the following key clusters of questions that all startups need to address, to assess how well they are prepared for the roller-coaster ride of edtech entrepreneurship. Interestingly, many startups feel that ‘all is well’ before they look at these questions, but poring through them in detail may discourage some of them. The answer lies in between – the passion should certainly be nurtured, but also tempered with realistic assessment.
At the bootcamp, identification of the problem and the customer turned out to be the simplest and the most profound question that most entrepreneurs struggled to answer, according to Gaurav Singh, Co-founder of Sylvant. This is because of multiple stakeholders involved in key decisions of the sales process in the education sector. “In our view, we believe that if this question is comprehensively addressed, it sets the foundation for solutions and scale,” said Gaurav.
It is important for founders to always stay focussed on the problem they are trying to solve, and not get wedded to ‘the perfect solution’ since the needs and technologies may change, according to Madan Padaki, Co-founder of Head Held High Foundation.
Despite tough challenges, the bootcamp participants demonstrated their passion for building education companies and bringing in business validation, said Srikrishna Ramamoorthy, partner at Unitus Seed Fund. Full details of the winning startups will be revealed after the five-city series of bootcamps is completed. The next meetups will be held in Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi in June.
Some of the market issues discussed above can be handled by bootstrapped startups, but rapid launch and scale may require the support of investors who make their evaluations based on a range of success factors. Enter the startup pitch and storytelling techniques – more on that in our next article on StartEdu 2016.