An apparent by-product of the growing popularity of entrepreneurship over recent years has been an increase in the amount of specialised accelerators for specific industry verticals such as health, finance, energy and education. In addition to the greater diversity of industry verticals that these accelerators now serve, there also appears to be increased interest from a wider variety of accelerator facilitators to include corporations that use specialised accelerators to outsource R&D, government agencies attempting to promote digital economies through state-run initiatives, and the Pope.
Yes, recently this year, Pope Francis launched ed-tech accelerator Scholas by leveraging the network he created from other education initiatives in an attempt to encourage social integration and establish a culture of encounter. It now appears that anyone who has said the pursuit of education and entrepreneurship is not a holy endeavour was apparently wrong.
Ed-tech revenue coming in from Asia
As many EU- and US-based ed-tech companies find a rising percentage of their revenue coming from Asia, there is an increasing interest in developing product and engaging consumers directly in specific Asian markets. Case in point, a US$65 million funding round from MOOC provider Udemy was raised for international expansion efforts, assumingly Asia, with initial outreach potentially in Japan or English language content-driven markets such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Philippines.
Ed-tech startups outside of Asia seeking to scale globally will need to be embrace the fact that amidst the combined sum of India, China and ASEAN, there sits a significant portion of the global K-12 market, a booming higher education supply and demand, and a need for either more localised content or enhanced curation of existing content. Other countries in the region such as Japan and Korea have some of the highest caregiver-to-child-spend ratios in the world, particularly for first-time parents who spare no expense in the early years phase of learning.
Test prep, tutoring, and secondary student supplemental services that ease the transition to university provide the second burst in caregiver spend.
Asia’s ed-tech ecosystem
The local ed-tech ecosystem is evolving as well. In Asia, there is an observable notice of year-on-year growth with the amount and quality of education-focussed events such as EdTech Asia meetups that feature industry leaders, Startup Weekends that focus solely on education, and national teacher corps programmes such as Teach for China and Teach for Thailand.
The latter has had significant impact on educational entrepreneurship both in the US and China, as youthful, altruistic teachers completing their two-year assignment are acutely aware of the problems that exist in the K-12 learning environment. Armed with the greater technological proficiency of their generation, these teachers not only seek to address issues through entrepreneurship, but are highly motivated and capable of successfully implementing these innovative solutions as well.
As these ecosystem enhancers continue to gain popularity throughout the region and a handful of locally developed ed-tech startups become more well known such as Thailand’s Taamkru, Indonesia’s Harukaedu, China’s Chase Future, Vietnam’s Topica, Malaysia’s EasyUni and Singapore’s Literatu, the younger generation will be provided more opportunities for awareness and to seek educational startup experiences.
Ed-tech startups who stand out
It’s worth mentioning that Taamkru and Chase Future were winners at Echelon Asia Summit in 2014 and 2015 respectively. A growing societal acceptance of tech entrepreneurship as an honourable option to the corporate employee path can only enhance innovative ideas and ultimately it appears as if a handful of newly specialised acceleration programmes will be there to fill the void.
Here is a non-comprehensive selection of some of the better known accelerators actively seeking ed-tech based startups from the Asia region.
Edge is a three-month, mentor-led programme in New York City. NYC is a logical hub for global ed-tech companies interested in scaling in the US and is home to the largest US K-12 school district, the largest community college network, the largest education publishers, the most prestigious teacher’s colleges, headquarters of the corporate training departments of some of the largest companies, world-renowned early childhood learning brands, two million students and financial firms who invest in education.
The EDGE accelerator offers startups US$170,000, more capital than any other accelerator in the space, and provides a powerful network in education, technology, talent and experience to accelerate budding ed-tech companies. In 2015, it aims to focus especially on companies solving problems in pre-kindergarten, corporate learning and teams tackling or entering into Asian markets.
It helps to position startups to complete a round of funding after the programme at the US$500,000 to US$5 million level. More details are found here.
Lithan in cooperation with Red Dot Ventures
Lithan is the first ed-tech focussed accelerator in Singapore. The programme has two phases, the first being the ideation phase that consists of a six-week edupreneurship bootcamp conducted by the Lithan Hall Academy. During this phase, ed-tech innovators will more fully develop their business models and validate their ideas through engagement.
Ideas that pass this phase will be formally accepted into the second stage where they can utilise Lithan’s applied education training, rooms, equipment, and mentorship to rapidly expand their business.
MAP has a two-track accelerator system that welcomes education startups through a social entrepreneurship programme. The two-track system has both a ‘Malaysia team entries only’ social enterprise intake, as well as a regional programme that can take in teams from member countries from the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
Selected teams are awarded free housing and flight transportation to Kuala Lumpur in addition to the typical advisory and capacity development achieved through workshops and cohort engagement.
Based in Beijing, LearnLab has a strong partnership with Teach for China and Teach for All and is backed by mentors and advisors representing some of the regions most active investment entities such as 500 Startups. The accelerator is focussed on educational startups and enterprises across China and international companies looking to expand into China.
The author Mike Michalec is the Co-founder and Managing Director of EdTech Asia.
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