Please Sir, where are the education start-ups?

The following is a guest post by Alastair Briggs from

In a search for peers to work with (and share frustrations) I keep an eye out for other education focused start-ups. Unfortunately in the UK there seems to be a problem: either I am rubbish at finding these companies, the start-ups are great at hiding or there are just not that many out there.

The market for Education in the UK is massive – there are 26,562 different schools in the UK, and 157 universities and classroom based learning is only part of the picture. There is also adult education, distance learning, workplace training and many qualifications that could be thought of as niche, but have high enrolments each year. On top of formal education there is informal education that is best represented by language learning and the “Dummies guide to” range of books.

Most of these markets have large established companies specialising in a particular area: school administration software, revision guides, educational software, language teaching etc. These large companies are very focused on maintaining their market share in competitive and established markets and not focused on disruptive ideas but maintaining the status-quo.

Prior to writing this post of I knew of the following start-ups (including ourselves):

Sums Online – Proving a range of flash based maths activities to a school and home audience – becoming the leader in classroom based PDA maths – marketplace: schools

WildKnowledge – Providing Windows Mobile based survey software for use inside and outside the classroom on PDAs – marketplace: schools – A range of tools for students to plan and manage their studies – marketplace: university students

School Of Everything – A connecting tool to directly link people who want to study with teachers of that subject – marketplace: individual learners and teachers.

uHavePassed – Online quizzes that can be taken off line focused on Handy Education(convenience) – marketplace: (currently) students for UK driving test

Learnitlists – Widget based vocabulary training, making personalised learning ubiquitous across many websites – marketplace: language learners

Fonefonics – Complete multi-media language courses delivered via mobile phone, focusing on teaching English to those without computer access – marketplace: employment agencies, language learners

• Many other language based sites offering elearning

After Mike sent out a twitter question I also found out about who focus on eLearning for the maritime industry and are the exclusive online provider for the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers.

This year will see the academic focused mLearnand school focused Handheld Learning conferences hosted in the UK. These conferences highlight two problems: mLearn will have lots of innovation, but little of this is being commercialised and Handheld Learning will be heavily technology focused with Apple, Sony, Samsung and Fujitsu all trying to show how their existing solutions can work in the classroom rather than designing new technology for students. It is not well known that the UK is leading the world in research and trials into PDA use in schools.

Technology has already made its impact on education with eLearning now well established in a lot of subject areas. Asus are really innovating with their EEE PC, which seems to fit the needs of educators and parents – is anyone pushing this device further? The iPhone and iPod Touch are perfect multi-media learning platforms (with restricted input mechanisms) for all ages and across all markets – who is going to innovate and disrupt with these? Social networking offers really new ways to collaborate and learn – who is going to turn this from academic idea into working products?

Let’s start the discussion – the questions for which I have no good answers:

What is stopping people from moving into this market?

Why isn’t there funding focused towards education? (perhaps one of those incumbents might like to think about that)

Why is there a strong bias towards language learning in start-ups? Is this because it is more consumer focused?