Edtech: DACH trends and hypotheses

K-12 and higher education

With covid, education at all levels temporarily moved online, showing up technological gaps to do so. Other gaps have been visible longer: student debt in the US burdening graduates, impersonal teaching and rote learning at many European universities, and school curricula that do not keep pace with new skill requirements such as coding.

To understand the edtech landscape better, what is being worked on and where new opportunities exist, we looked at ca. 200 startups in DACH from the last 20 years, of which roughly a quarter each addressed K-12 education (kindergarten to secondary school), higher education, lifelong learning and corporate education. Unsurprisingly perhaps, owing to budget and regulatory constraints, nearly all startups except those in corporate education were B2C, i.e. selling to learners rather than institutions or governments.

Edtech startups in DACH founded 2000–2020 (source: crunchbase; analysis: Judith Vogel, seed + speed Ventures)

K-12 education

For K-12 learners we saw a large number of B2C tutoring platforms for in-person support and B2C apps for specific subject areas such as maths, coding and languages, as well as a small number of B2B school administration/ platform services (such as Sdui or Teech). Where B2B was previously tricky in education, covid has increased the need and use of online platforms, tools, and hardware for remote learning. Becoming accustomed to those in the classroom may accelerate the move from frontal teaching as we know it, to personalised flipped classroom models that allow students to work at different paces and on different projects, while being both trackable (by parents and teachers) and generating data insights to improve learning methods and outcomes.

For instance, the startup bina school is building a primary school operating system to deliver customised, data-driven learning at scale. Private players may also create online curricula sold to schools in subjects where they currently have trouble supplying high-quality tuition, e.g. IT, or that they don’t yet offer, e.g. psychology, business etc. Alternatively, teachers using course assemblage software such as Teachable, can give students a greater variety of subjects to suit their interests and learning approaches to suit their learning style.

An array of digital courses with students learning at their pace and skill level could lead us away from fixed class cohorts, to learning groups by subject and level. This can in time change the physical space from separate classrooms to study spaces, as well as optional remote learning — possibly in parallel to remote working among parents or possible counterurbanisation. School systems globally may start to assimilate, as software is easily shared, easing comparability of degrees globally; although greater curriculum competition within each country could make a comparison of learning outcomes more tricky.

Higher education

Among higher education startups we found a lot of placement companies (e.g. helping students find degrees abroad, a suitable subject area or the right university) and study support startups (from managing timetable and grades, e-learning and exam preparation, to ghostwriting and plagiarism scans). More than at K-12 we also saw some institutional innovations, such as CODE University and Tomorrow’s Education, both offering new, accredited Bachelor/Master degrees in technology and entrepreneurship. Outside of DACH we have seen even more new institutions e.g. African Leadership University (ALU), Lambda School, Minerva, Singularity University and others.

The innovations of existing new higher (and lifelong) learning institutions consist especially of their location flexibility (e.g. Tomorrow’s Education or Lamda School being offered remote) and their project-based or other alternative teaching methods (e.g. at CODE University, ALU or Minerva). Being fully or largely digital supports individualised course progression (pace and choice of courses) while alternative teaching methods help more carefully craft desired learning outcomes (skills and personality) than in more anonymous traditional university settings. A heavy focus on course stickiness and community building also help alleviate drop-out problems previously associated with online courses (such as those on coursera or edx, which also offer high quality content).

Beyond location flexibility and teaching methods, these new programmes often also offer more flexible timing (e.g. Tomorrow’s Education’s Master can be completed part-time and outside of the typical academic year, Lamda School has programmes starting roughly monthly with part- and full-time options) and funding advantages (e.g ALU and Lambda both offering study now, pay later options). Much like in schooling, a wealth of creativity can still be brought to online higher and lifelong learning to cover more subjects (beyond business and coding to science and arts), create alternative living and study arrangements (e.g. distributed learning hubs) and further experiment with learning approaches and personal development. To support this, there is also more scope for supporting infrastructure that can be used across all edtech sectors (schooling to corporate education) — an area in which we saw little activity in DACH so far but some attractive solutions in the US. Specific areas we see as important are online labs and science simulations/equipment, exam invigilation and skill assessment solutions, and fintechs that support fair and equitable access to education through study now/pay later and other solutions.

Implications

Using technological innovations in education helps make it more personalised and flexible, which can make comparing learning outcomes more difficult. In addition, some startups are avoiding accreditation, e.g. by building a reputation and employer relationships (e.g. Lamda School). If this becomes common, it may have implications on hiring and HR tech, giving “objective” assessment methods more weight (e.g. personality, intelligence and skills tests) than traditional methods (looking at signalling in a CV and interviews).

Socially, the less learning takes place in a central location that is determined by geography, the more bubbles based on views (rather than location) may be created. While globally that may be desirable, less interaction and greater distancing within a society presumably bears risks for cohesion and social peace. As we are also seeing bubbles in other areas (media bubbles and economic inequalities), these are problems to consider at a larger scale. How do we facilitate community on a local level (even more so after covid lockdowns) or how do societies work if community is no longer necessarily local, but geographically distributed?

Learning setups, approaches and contents that are personal and flexible can be very beneficial for learners — from a social point of view (allowing students to avoid school if there is bullying, or go to school if they wish to avoid home), a learning point of view (finding the approach that suits the student’s style best), a contents point of view (allowing greater focus on strengths or weaknesses, according to a student’s talents) and a mental health perspective (if suitable learning styles and contents contribute to confidence and flexible learning contributes to well-being). Education levels also appear to be one of the biggest predictors of a society’s prosperity. As such, we are excited for what is to come in education technology. Please reach out to discuss your ideas.

seed + speed Ventures is a seed investor focussing on B2B software startups in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. As a lead or co-investor, seed + speed initially invests up to €500k in its portfolio companies and supports the development of sustainable, successful sales structures through tailored sales coaching by in-house sales trainers. Thus seed + speed actively adds value to the operational business of its portfolio companies to enable faster growth.

TechQuartier, founded in 2016 in Europe‘s financial center of Frankfurt, is a cross-industry innovation platform created to bring startups, corporates and up-and-coming talent together to work, meet, learn and collaborate on new technologies and digital business models. Our member-based community numbers more than 370 startups, 50 academic and corporate innovators and hundreds of potential founders.

Authors: Judith Vogel, Katharina Kunze

Early-stage VC based in Berlin. Particular interests in edtech, fintech, privacy vs transparency, governance and decentralisation, and marketplaces.