How this Finnish startup is bringing personalised learning to the edutech spaceSindhu Kashyap
How often we have heard students say they do not understand a particular subject, or rather, do not like a concept? We all accept and acknowledge that learning and comprehension are different for each individual, yet most schools and universities follow the ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Perplexed by this phenomenon, Vesa Perälä developed CLANED in Finland in 2013 with the aim of providing students with the best possible personalised learning solutions. Having monitored the space since 2006, Vesa realised that technology is the key for personalising learning.
One size doesn’t fit all
“While Facebook, Google, Twitter and Pinterest are all based on highly individual and relevant service experience, education technology has not reached the level of other industries in digitisation, and hasn’t been able to offer personalised learning that matches the needs of individual students,” says 45-year-old Vesa.
While Vesa agrees that edutech is fast growing, he believes that the digital tools offered to students aren’t built to optimise their learning experience. Be it learning management systems or other platforms, they all lack the social media ‘like’ and analytics functionalities that are needed to determine the best learning technique for each student.
“There is neither engagement nor interaction between users and tools, and they mainly serve as digital learning content storages,” adds Vesa.
CLANED works as a social and digital learning environment that creates a personal learning space for each student. The student can read, write, watch videos, make notes, plan, chat, and collaborate with others within that space.
A combination of psychology and artificial intelligence
The platform uses a combination of artificial intelligence and educational psychology theories. Based on this combination, it begins to understand how each student learns and what the factors affecting his or her learning processes and study performance are. On the basis of the insights the algorithm provides, students are recommended study buddies, learning materials, and mentors that best suit their needs.
Vesa adds that CLANED’s product concept is based on years of academic research and has been developed in collaboration with leading educational institutions. CLANED started their commercial activities in late 2015 after intensive product development over two-and-a-half years.
The team has been selling CLANED solutions for about six months. They claim to have made commercial deals in excess of 1 million euros in over 10 countries. The plan is to scale up and offer a superior product and user experience.
Building the team
When Vesa came up with the idea of CLANED, he roped in Mervi Palander, whom he has known since his time at Nokia Corporation, as the CEO. Mervi had started the e-learning activities of Nokia Corporation in the 1990s, creating digital learning solutions for over 200,000 internal and external users.
After Nokia, in the years between 2005 and 2010, she worked in leadership positions in education companies both in Finland and abroad. During 2010–2013, she founded and led the national education export program ‘Future Learning Finland’, reporting to three ministries.
When they started operations in June 2013, the duo had a clear idea of the kind of employees they wanted in key positions. The most significant hires included Chief Data Scientist Ilkka Autio, who has been with the team since August 2013.
When he was living in Denmark, Vesa led a 200-million-euro business division of Jabra, and was responsible for a global project changing the way sales and marketing were performed and organised at Coloplast. As the CEO of Web of Trust (WOT), he expanded the user base from six to over 100 million users in two years, and closed commercial deals with the likes of Facebook, Google, Mail.Ru, and Yandex.
Vesa is also a co-founder of Inbot Inc. and has invested in startups such as Kiosked, SportSetter, Venuu, Kansalaisrahoitus, and Zadaa. He has three previous exits under his belt, and has raised over 25 million euros in venture capital during his career.
Numbers and traction
At the current run rate, the team claims that the company will reach a revenue of 1.5 to 2 million euros by the end of this year. The team has partnered with schools, municipalities, universities, and different sized commercial corporations across 10 countries.
These customers pay an annual subscription fee per student. They also aim to introduce new chargeable services directly to the consumers later in 2016. These are invoiced per transaction or on a monthly basis.
The edutech space is replete with several players. In the space of personalised learning, there is Aspada-backed XAMCHECK in the skill development field; Great Learning started by an ex-Tiger executive; the Ronnie Screwvala co-founded UpGrad; and Kalaari Capital backed Simplilearn. There also is the Delhi-based MINDLER, which focuses on career counselling for students based on psychometric test results.
CLANED has raised 4 million euros from business angels and family funds in Finland, India, and Singapore. Tekes (a Finnish government-owned financial organisation) and the European Commission have funded the team. The team expects to launch and begin operations in Delhi this year. The funding will be utilised to scale the India and Asian operations.
The team has also partnered with LyncBiz a global sales management consulting firm to help expand and scale CLANED’s India operations.
“Our hard work is bearing fruit now as we sign new customers on a weekly basis, and the number of inbound customers is increasing rapidly. We are also building up a strong network of partners and are already working with companies such as Microsoft and Lenovo,” says Vesa.
The team intends to start acquiring end-users in Q4 2016. They at present are in the middle of an ongoing crowd-funding project and have even won the 2016 Worlddiac Award. The award is given to high quality and innovative educational products.
The aim is to have 1 million users by the end of the year and continue growing the user base significantly in 2017. The vision is to become the leading learning analytics company in the world.