According to The Economist, Switzerland is one of the world’s most advanced education systems. Among the 50 countries covered in the latest index, Switzerland ranks second, right after Finland. Although economies such as the USA or China are known as some of the world’s biggest EdTech markets and therefore provide the right market size to scale-up, they are apparently underachieving in future education demands, as stated in the Economist Group’s recently published study. Switzerland and Finland, on the other hand, excel particularly in their policy environment. When it comes to fine-tuning EdTech innovations for the global markets, these countries are definitely to be considered.
Quality and complexity of innovating in advanced systems
When innovating in advanced education sectors, EdTech startups need to take into account opportunities and challenges. The opportunity to innovate in an advanced system lies to a great degree in quality: Advanced education systems provide top engineering talent, ambitious and intelligent institutions from universities to foundations, and substantial funding sources from long-term capital to research grant funding. On the downside, challenges might lie in the overdetermined character of advanced, highly integrated systems. High-quality systems lead to complexity: demanding environments in which there is little space for poorly designed inventions. To come up with new solutions, considerable investments in collaborative alliances, sector know-how and technologies are needed.
6 practices of innovation partnerships
At Kickstart’s EdTech & Learning Vertical, we help international and Swiss technology ventures to make an innovative leap in and through Switzerland’s education system. Our ambition is to help innovators create collaborative alliances. Based on the EdTech ventures that have participated in Kickstart, we have come up with 6 exemplary collaboration practices to showcase their achievements.
1 – White-label product partnerships with local EdTech companies
Kickstart and foundation partners coordinated and funded a white-label partnership pilot between the Danish EdTech startup WriteReader and the local education software company Dybuster with market access to Germany. Growing into high-quality education sectors requires local know-how, networks and reputation. The local company helps add a high quality, premium element in a demanding local market for the global mass product.
EdTech Pitches during Final Selection at Kraftwerk. (/Anja Wurm, Ringier)
2 – Engineering partnerships with science-driven technical universities
The Kickstart partner foundation Gebert Rüf provided the UK based EdTech startup RosieReality an innovation grant to develop their hardware into an AR/software technology in partnership with Wyss Center, a prestigious Swiss university industry center. Later, the Rosie team moved from London to Zurich where they became an official spin-off of ETH Zurich. Today, the startup develops an ambitious computer vision technology for the US, B2C consumer markets and attracts global tech companies and engineering talent from around the world.
3 – Proof-of-concepts in teaching with large-campus universities
The technical university partner of Kickstart, ETH Zurich, conducted a proof-of-concept with the Norwegian EdTech startup Differ for large-scale course collaboration: In a chatbot supported online environment, teaching assistants help students to collaborate on exercises. The pilot targeted a math student course for around 500 engineering students, a very critical and thus demanding course for the university’s ambition to educate top-tier engineers. Apart from the prestigious partner in the university landscape, the startup benefitted from intensive iteration with faculty and teaching assistants to test and further develop its product.
4 – Grant-funding for feasibility studies to advance product-market-fit
Two of Switzerland’s largest foundations, Mercator Foundation Switzerland and Jacobs Foundation, provided grant-funding for a feasibility study to test out the application of the Danish EdTech startup WriteReader in Swiss primary schools. The app helps children to learn writing and reading by creating their own books. The funding supported the test roll-out among 50 primary schools with an evaluation of how teachers perceive the app. The startup benefitted not only from the association with the prestigious foundations, but also from a high-quality analysis and video documentary material of the test study for promotional activities in German speaking countries.
5 – Proof-of-concepts for product-market pivots with corporations
Kickstart partner corporation Swisscom implemented a proof-of-concept with the Swiss EdTech company TEACHY in order to bring more traction to the corporation’s internal expert matching software. The EdTech company pivoted its student tutoring matching software and knowledge to motivate corporate employees to exchange their expertise and build knowledge-driven relationships.
6 – Venture Fund investment in EdTech startups
The Danish company Labster raised $21M in Series B Funding from different investors, including Kickstart partner Swisscom Ventures. This will help Labster to bring their Virtual Reality labs to STEM students, in order to provide a learning environment in which they can experiment with different lab scenarios. To scale-up an education product requires trusted and skillful investors who are willing to understand and learn that the EdTech sector is different to other tech markets.
Here is why Robert MacKenzie, Vice President Engineering & Research at Labster recommends taking part in Kickstart: