B2B edtech's impact on the future of education: Industry stalwarts share insights

The AWS Bharat Innovators Series, powered by AWS, Intel, and YourStory, recently convened a virtual panel discussion titled "The Business of EdTech: How B2B companies are innovating to meet the needs of education"

B2B edtech's impact on the future of education: Industry stalwarts share insights

Friday August 25, 2023,

7 min Read

The digital transformation of education has led to the emergence of innovative B2B companies that are reshaping the landscape of learning. The AWS Bharat Innovators Series, powered by AWS, Intel, and YourStory, recently convened a virtual panel discussion titled "The Business of EdTech: How B2B companies are innovating to meet the needs of education".

The panel discussion featured key players from the B2B education technology sector, including Jatin Sharma, Senior Global Vice President, SHL; Manish Mohta, Managing Director, Learning Spiral; and Naveen Goyal, Founder and CEO, Meritto (formerly NoPaperForms). They shed light on their journey, challenges, and strategies for success. The discussion was moderated by Sunil PP, South Asia Lead - Education, Space, NPOs, Channels & Alliances, Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Unifying solutions for education's transformation

Goyal recounted the company's humble beginnings, initially centered on digitising application forms. “We initiated this venture in 2017 with a mission to modernise and expand enrolment and admissions processes across the country. At present, we are the leading platform for enrolment and recruitment in India.”

He said the initial phase demanded 2-2.5 years of dedicated effort to establish the product, and Meritto now empowers “over 1,000 educational institutions nationwide. This encompasses a diverse range, from higher education universities to K12 schools, edtech platforms, and playschools”.

Goyal also acknowledged their pivotal role in creating and dominating this category but acknowledged that the journey was far from over. Only 1,000 institutions have been covered till now; there are 30,000 more to target.

The founder described the early landscape where institutions predominantly operated offline, utilising multiple disjointed solutions. Even large institutions clung to outdated software. Recognising this gap, Meritto saw a chance to unify solutions and revolutionise enrolment processes. The company decided to focus on the input layer of the education industry, specifically recruitment and enrolment, as a stepping stone to drive transformation. This approach aligned with their vision to deliver significant returns to the industry and instigate real change.

“We currently manage nearly 100 million inquiries on our platform. This equates to approximately 10 million applications and roughly half a million admissions each year,” he added.

However, as the team expanded its reach, covering a vast expanse of the education sector and managing a staggering 100 million inquiries, the term 'digitising application forms' fell short of capturing the scope. Responding to customer perceptions and recognising burgeoning opportunities, the company chose to rebrand from NoPaperForms to Meritto. This shift was driven by the realisation that the team was now an operating system in the realm of recruitment and enrolment, primed for global expansion.

Transforming assessment and recruitment worldwide

Sharing SHL’s journey, Sharma spoke about exploring the assessment market, initially focusing on India, and later expanding globally.

"At the outset, our primary objective was to analyse specific industries and address their recruitment challenges," he explained. "We adopted a meritocracy-driven approach, prioritising more than just reviewing resumes. As we scaled up, the significance of merit-based evaluations grew, and operational efficiencies became essential for managing high-volume recruitment processes."

"On another front," Sharma noted, "we recognised the substantial value that candidates could derive from these assessments in terms of employability feedback. We successfully generated extensive feedback for candidates and educational institutes, highlighting skill gaps and learning opportunities that needed attention."

Sharma said growth was propelled by these dual efforts, adding that candidates reaped the benefits of feedback, while employers found satisfaction in accessing quality talent tailored to their requirements.

"Today, our presence extends to over 150 countries globally," Sharma proudly shared, highlighting, "We continue to serve diverse linguistic populations across different regions."

Revolutionising public education

Reflecting on their journey, Mohta talked about Learning Spiral’s deliberate focus on the public sector.

"Nearly all of our clients are government-based due to an encounter I had with the principal secretary of education in Bengal during our early days." According to Mohta, the secretary emphasised the significance of collaborating with the government to truly make an impact in education. This, he said, led them to choose the public sector.

"Currently, we have collaborated with 30% of central universities and have over 50 state universities as clients," Mohta shared.

He acknowledged the challenges of transforming the public sector, from managing change to navigating innovation and procurement. However, he highlighted the rewarding aspect of impacting millions of learners.

"Annually, we positively influence the lives of approximately 20 to 30 million students," he said. He also highlighted the company’s role in handling admission cycles for public sector institutes, with around 100 million applications processed. This, he explained, ensures transparency and awareness throughout the admission process.

Navigating complexities with technology

Mohta was vocal about owing a significant part of the company’s success to AWS. "When we embarked on this journey, the mere thought of handling 200,000 or 300,000 simultaneous users used to send shivers down our spines. We questioned whether it was even achievable – stability was a concern, and doubts loomed. Fast forward to today, and we effortlessly manage five to six million assessments without a hint of trepidation from our tech team.”

He gave “more than 50% credit for our confidence to AWS. This level of confidence has empowered us to boldly tackle the challenges of scalability. In the past, the idea of scaling up used to be a nerve-wracking prospect, with the fear of unknown breakdowns”.

AWS and its support has helped the company streamline and execute scaling plans. This partnership has become a cornerstone, particularly because, "When you're dealing with critical assessments, a single misstep could spell disaster for our company and jeopardise our careers”. This has made meticulous planning and a multitude of contingencies (Plan B, C, D, E, F) an integral part of Learning Spiral’s strategy.

The complex landscape of academic admissions

Sunil PP, who moderated the discussion, noted that the introduction of National Education Policy 2020 lent a heightened level of complexity to the admission process. He shared his observation from a conference in Pune where discussions highlighted the intricate nature of creating the necessary permutations and combinations for seamless admission procedures.

He questioned strategies being employed to tackle this challenge, considering that technology often plays a beneficial role in such scenarios.

"From our perspective, it's like a lottery. For businesses, it's an opportunity because what you're saying is that a student can enroll multiple times across different campuses during their academic journey. This means one student contributes to multiple enrolments, making the impact even greater," Goyal said.

However, he acknowledged the challenges associated with this approach. He pointed out that managing diverse enrolment timings, capacity planning, accreditation, approval assessment, and more, all within a technology-driven framework, poses complexities.

Goyal stated that AWS had been instrumental in guiding institutions toward robust infrastructure implementation. He cited the example of Aadhaar integration and the Digilocker, highlighting the exponential growth in the adoption of digital documents. This efficiency-driven shift, though currently at a smaller scale, has the potential to significantly impact the enrolment landscape.

Changing dynamics of B2B

Sunil acknowledged Goyal's unique perspective in scaling a business in this dynamic environment. He pointed out the surge of early-stage startups aiming to enter the B2B education ecosystem, given India's vast educational landscape.

Chiming in, Mohta underscored the need to recognise the nuanced nature of the B2B space. He affirmed that building value and fostering relationships were pivotal, but highlighted that decision makers had evolved into mature buyers. Mere aesthetics or superficial features were no longer sufficient to win them over. Instead, demonstrating substantial value was essential. He concluded by suggesting that newcomers in the space should adapt to these shifts and align their strategies with the evolving ecosystem.

The Bharat Innovator Series, a joint initiative by AWS, Intel, and YourStory, aims to create a dialogue between founders, innovators, policymakers, and thought leaders on a common platform to discuss technology opportunities, identify challenges, and find synergies for the future. The series features webinars, podcasts, and events that highlight the work of Indian innovators across various fields.