BETT 2015 was the biggest and baddest edtech show on the planet; forget FETC and ISTE (just for educators), GSV/ASU (for edtech startups & deals) and SXSWedu (parties and ….parties) – BETT is the bomb.
I was all set for 13th visit to churn out another story bemoaning usurious food prices, travel hassles, the lack of support for edtech innovation, the roster of irrelevant speakers and the paucity of thought leadership. Yet on Friday as I slunk home exhausted, I was also happy; yes there are still a few pain points, but overall the BETT behemoth had sprung back to life with a big bang and a gravitational force that had drawn 40,000 of us all the way to Excel (in my case 3 times).
BETT’s owners i2i claim it’s a split 50:50 B2B trade show and event for educators, although I think it’s more like 60:40. But this year it was far more than a trade show with hundreds of events, seminars and speakers, plenty of thought leadership and most importantly 20,000 educators over 4 days.
This year’s speakers ranged from the dire (Sir Bob Geldof) to the inspirational (Jack Andraka) but most importantly there were a raft of real educators like Emily Thompson of Fairlands Primary, Jonathan Bishop of Broadclyst Primary, Rachel Jones of King Edward VI School and Abdul Chohan of ESSA Academy.
It’s here that I pause, because what I hate most about BETT are the opening speeches by the Secretary of State and her Shadow.
This year it was Nicky Morgan, a privately-educated Oxford graduate and former lawyer, who was parachuted in after Michael Gove managed to alienate the educational establishment and more worryingly for his party quite a few voters. The anodyne Ms Morgan was followed by, Tristram Hunt another a privately-educated Cambridge graduate. Neither had anything informative, radical or even vaguely interesting to say, and if they had it would have been leaked by their media teams well in advance.
In the vast exhibition hall there were the usual international suspects like Apple (who had yet to announce their world record profit) , Google, INTEL, Microsoft, Pearson, and a few outliers like Lynda.com who announced mid show that they had raised another £122m from TPG (the owners of TES Global). The scale of the investment in stands and staffing at BETT is immense and one friend said he wanted to ask several big exhibitors, “How the hell did you afford a stand of that size; I’ve seen your accounts?”.
During BETT Pearson were taking a whipping in the US press, rather unfairly I think because they are a genuine education company and not part of the ‘dark side’ – I say this as someone who has never worked or taken a penny from them although I did speak on a panel they ran at BETT. However, if attendees and educators generally want some focus for their ire then I suggest they look to exhibitors like Apple and Google, who for all the great devices, services and ideas, would make a far more substantive (and brand building) impact in education if they’d just pay a fair share of tax. Another organization who deserves a bucketing is UKTI whose massive stand was almost completely empty when I took a photograph of it during one of the busiest times at BETT. It’s a great example of a good idea badly done (with our taxes).
My main focus is edtech and for this BETT has been a Bermuda Triangle for several years. This year’s Futures Zone was coordinated by the Education Foundation and when I heard their plans I was unconvinced. But I’m very pleased to say I was completely wrong (mea culpa, Ian and Ty). The Future Zone was in a great location, had an excellent layout and a stimulating program of speakers and panels (I sat on the one for LEGup). Of the edtech startups I saw the ones I liked were:
- ZZish – aiming to be UNITY for edtech app developers. It’s run by Charles Wiles (ex-Google) who has impressive degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge
- Bibblio – linking video content creators with customers. Founded by Mads Holmen, and a recent graduate from the local Emerge Education incubator
- PRIMO – learning technology through tangible play. Founded by Filippo Jacob, it started as a Kickstarter project and is also an Emerge Education alumnus
- TinyTap and Sparkup – part of the Israeli Tech Hub organized by MindCet
BETT is also a social event and it was great to see friends like:
- Naimish Gohil of ShowMyHomework whose stand featured a free masseuse
- Maria Brosnan of Day Two productions, who won the BETT Early Years Digital Content award for The Traditional Story Teller
- George Burgess of Gojimo (Index Ventures backed) who hosted an educators-only free drinks party
- Anthony Bouchier, CEO of award-winning digital media company TWIG
- Jon Phillips the MD (Strategy) of Dell Education, with whom I dined in style at The Mayfair Punchbowl
After 3 days wandering the length and breadth of BETT I also saw a few themes that no one seemed to want to address:
- That there’s too much focus on devices (numbers, types, etc) and not enough on the need for high quality content
- Data; who owns it, how can it improve learning and why do many products make their data extra work for educators?
- Many ‘new’ products were nothing more than repackaged versions of things schools already have, e.g. new MISs
- BETT need better online engagement and to build an audience of educators who can’t attend. FECT does this well and is this deficiency a lack of vison or because i2i Group are focusing most of their effort and money on building BETT Asia, Latin America and Brazil?
All up BETT 2015 was a real success for both visitors and exhibitors, but it can’t rest on its laurels because to remain relevant it needs to innovate as quickly as the industry it supports.
Disclaimer – I’m an investor in PRIMO