New European Edtech Accelerator Kicks Off Search For 10 Startups Eager To Disrupt The Classroom

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Another development in the European edtech ecosystem: early stage startups with a plan to disrupt education are being encouraged to apply to join a new incubator that will kick off its first programme this September.

The European Incubator for Innovation is currently accepting applications for its forthcoming 12-week programme. It’s looking for 10 startups to be mentored by education experts in a successive of European cities. Startups have til March 17 to apply.

The aim of the bootcamp will be for teams to go from proposal to prototype, testing it in classrooms or corporate learning environments along the way, while also sweating the details of their business strategy.

The Incubator is currently running a competition — which it’s calling the Open Education Challenge — to select the 10 startups that will form its first cohort. These startups will get five in-person coaching sessions in Barcelona, Paris, London, Berlin, and Helsinki, and will spend the rest of the program working in their own countries to develop and test their product/service — with access to online support and direct mentoring.

At the end of the 12 weeks, there will be an investors day where the startups present their projects to the incubators’ Open Education Investors Club, with the chance to secure follow on funding.

Teams selected for the programme will get €20,000 for participating, in exchange for an average of 6% equity. This money is being put up by the founding partners of the incubator: education company P.A.U. Education and investment firm Armat Group.

Members of the affiliated Open Education Investment Club, who the teams pitch to at the end of the incubation period, then have an option to invest between €20,000 and €1 million (depending on the startup’s valuation) in return for a minimum 20% stake in the company.

Initial selection criteria for teams is weighted towards what the incubator calls “educational quality” — aka “well-identified, relevant problem in the education field with identifiable users/beneficiaries”; and “team value” — i.e. the credentials, compatibility and leadership skills of the team; followed by, on an equal footing: “technological relevance — technologically feasible with an appropriate degree of innovation”; and “business sustainability” (aka clear competitive advantage and market).

Teams that make the first pass will be asked for more detailed information about their project, and be interviewed. A shortlist of 20 finalists will then be invited to Barcelona for a pitch competition in July to select the 10 winners.

Applicants to the incubator don’t actually have to be entrepreneurs or fully-formed startups at this point — the incubator says its focus is on “proposals that have the potential to bring new technologies into education”.

So, for instance, it’s encouraging teachers and techies who see a gap to apply technology (or some other innovation) in the classroom to apply via its online submissions process. It also says it’s open to use of old technologies in disruptive news ways. Or, indeed, to business proposals focused on solving education problems that don’t have any digital technology component at all. (Albeit, that’s going against the mobile learning grain.)

“The Open Education Challenge not really focused on edtech,” the incubator told TechCrunch when asked how it fits into the existing European edtech accelerator landscape. “Of course, a lot of innovations in the education field are now based on new technologies, but we are open to innovations that simply use existing technology in a new way, or even that don’t rely on digital technologies at all.

“We are trying to stay open to new approaches and ‘wildcard’ ideas that address real problems or needs in education.”

The accelerator has several partner organisations it’s working with to deliver the programme, including the European Commission (not a financial partner); Berlin-based MOOCs startup iversity — which pivoted towards massive open online courses last year, after initially setting up a business focused on online learning collaboration tools; Aalto University in Finland; and ESCP Europe business school.

Stepping back to take in the wider picture for a moment, there’s no doubt that, finally, after lagging edtech developments in the U.S. Europe is starting to rethink education processes, encouraged and energised by huge consumer take-up of smartphones and tablets.

And indeed, in some countries, to rethink education curricula to (finally) make it fit for the digital age. In the U.K., for instance, the government is in the process of overhauling how IT is taught in schools – and will kick off mandatory computer programming lessons for primary and secondary children in England next September. That development will take the U.K. (or at least England) ahead of the global curve on school-age computing education.

Other notably tech-focused education developments in Europe include the rise of the Raspberry Pi microcomputer (coming out of Cambridge, U.K.) — as a low cost platform for teaching kids about coding and tinkering (albeit one that has been embraced most by the maker community). The Pi has also kickstarted other edtech startups, such as London-based Kano, which is Kickstarting a ‘build your own computer & learn how to code it’ kit.

Index Ventures, whose partner Saul Klein is a Kano backer, also this week joined a $1 million+ seed round in a new mobile platform education startup, called Gojimo, also based in London.

Meanwhile last year saw several European MOOCs platforms kick off programmes with the aim of building similar momentum to the likes of Coursera in the U.S. — including U.K.-based Futurelearn, and the aforementioned iversity.

On the education-focused accelerator front, another edtech incubator landed on the scene earlier this month — called Emerge Education – naming the six edtech startups in its first cohort.

Those six startups — which have each received £15,000/€18,000 in funding, in exchange for 6-10% equity — are:

  • Edhub – One place to login, manage and run all educational apps for primary and secondary school teachers. Removes the administrative headache of having to remember and facilitate hundreds of daily app logins by each teacher and student in a school.
  • Ellumia– Mobile-first course-platform that enables delivery of any learning content in an adaptive, social and self-directed environment.
  • Lexicum – Personalised vocabulary trainer that remembers the context in which the user first encountered new words.
  • Sixth Domain – Helps schools record and communicate good and bad behaviour to students, parents and other teachers, which measurably improves student behaviour.
  • Learned By Me – Connects top language teachers from emerging markets geographies with language learners for high-quality, affordable one-on-one tutoring sessions over Skype.
  • NurseryBook – Increases parent involvement in their children’s education by enabling nurseries to track and share daily updates about children’s progress.

Emerge is based at Google’s Campus London, and is in partnership with Eton College, and Oxford University’s Said Business School.