Disrupting Education: Business Angel’s Perspective

December 8, 2014

Education

Over the past years, technology has been reshaping many of the traditional industry sectors. Surprisingly, education hasn’t been fundamentally enhanced by technology and innovation yet. Trying to understand why, I’ve had many interesting discussions with startup founders, investors and industry experts. 

 

This time, I asked our friend Jonas Dromberg, angel investor & advisor in multiple startups, to share his view on the latest trends in online education, and to explain how he selects a startup to invest in. 

 

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The online education is one of the fastest growing markets globally. In your opinion, what are the trends shaping the future of learning? Where do you see the growth opportunities?

 

My aha! moment in online education came at IE Business School, where I’m doing my doctoral thesis. At IE, which leverages heavily on technology, I experienced that when constructed well, online functions provide a more powerful experience in classic lecture-based learning environments. As a testament to this, The Economist recently ranked IE’s GEMBA, the school’s blended EMBA offering, second in the world ahead of the lecture-based programs of Chicago Booth, IMD, Columbia etc. That’s quite a feat and a clear signal that online education is quickly becoming legit.

 

After some studying, I realized that effective education technology was very fragmented and mostly aimed at the university level, at business schools like IE or online platforms such as Coursera. The education technology market lacked an ecosystem that could bundle the fragmented USD 4.4 trillion education market together. There is no Facebook or Amazon.

 

Being a proponent of the democratizing effect of technology, and having previously invested in Swedish crowdfunding platform FundedByMe, I quickly sympathized with Eliademy’s vision of crowdsourcing online courses. Or as Eliademy’s founder puts it, “crowdsourcing the world’s knowledge.”

 

The vision of a one-stop education platform, a common online ecosystem with education offerings for primary school kids in Namibia to students at Latin America’s top universities is no more a utopia as the world is quickly moving towards broadband internet. The United Nations expects global mobile broadband access to more than triple in the next five years to span 7.6 billion people. That’s an amazing opportunity for online education.

 

 

As an early investors in FundedByMe and a supporter of crowdfunding, how do you see the role of the crowd, e.g. crowdsourcing in education?

 

Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding have proven to be very powerful tools. For example, Martin Varsavsky’s Fon has managed to crowdsource the Wi-Fi hotspots of 14 million people and Star Citizen managed to crowdfund USD60 million through Kickstarter. Surely, crowdsourcing is an equally good tool for collecting the world’s knowledge and online courses. Think of Wikipedia, for example. If we only could make that more interactive and add contextual and adaptive learning. I get goose bumps when I think of all the opportunities.

 

 

What are the main criteria you use to assess edutech startups as an angel investor?

 

I’m not sure there’s a magic bullet, but I believe that ambitious founders who are focusing on building an overarching ecosystem instead of focused standalone products may have a better shot at creating something ultimately meaningful in the education technology market. As said, online retailers have their Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma, but the Mark Zuckerberg of online education is yet to emerge. Honestly, I don’t assess entrepreneurs financially, I’m more interested in how hungry they are to create change and if they’re willing to digitally disrupt even the biggest of old-school players.

 

If there is only one advice you could give to a founder of an edutech startup, which one would it be?

 

Go the extra mile. The market is yet to find its form.

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