The 2013 edmix PitchFest start-up competition was deservedly won by eduvee; although, influential US edtech investor Tom Vander Ark (LearnCapital) wrote on his blog after visiting PitchFest, ‘alas the edtech startup culture and activity in London is weak’.
I think Tom is wrong, because he mistook edmix’s PitchFest as being representative of the whole London/UK edtech start-up scene, when it wasn’t. To be fair Tom, wrote that he liked Code Club (wholehearted agreement) and Beluga Learning (I disagreed and stil do).
That brings me to the 2014 edmix Edtech Innovation Awards, held at BETT. Like most people I thought this was another startup pitch competition (albeit with 50% less prize ‘money’ than in 2013). The confusion was understandable given the companies who were on the edmix stand were mainly startups and included two I really like Kano and Reward System (who were there via their participation in the Emerge Venture Labs incubator).
When the judging was happening it was like 2013 with it being hard to hear the pitches and then a long delay while the judges made their decision. Eventually they agreed that busuu deserved the £10k prize (basically the value of six months desk space at Pearson HQ). Like many of the audience I was flabbergasted that busuu were included (they are a fantastic company) because the other finalists were were start-ups, whereas bussu were:
- founded in 2008
- have raised over US$5m from the likes of ProFounders
- won the Red Herring 2010 Top 100 EuropeanWinner
- have a TechCrunch page has seven pages of revisions (dating back to 2012)
Luckily Tom Vander Ark wasn’t at BETT or edmix this year, otherwise I think his view of the London edtech scene might have sunk to a new low. Unlike Tom, I still see really interesting edtech ideas coming from lots of sources including successful media entrepreneurs, experienced edtech developers and increasingly teacherpreneurs. Sure, lots of their ideas won’t survive, few are truely international and most will struggle for funding as UK/European investors don’t get edtech (especially early stage). But the UK edtech ecosystem is far, far stronger anything edmix showecased at BETTand while busuu really is a great international edtech success, I’m not sure they have done themselves or our industry any favours by even entering edmix.
While edmix’s Ed Baker and I don’t see eye to eye very often, I applaud what he is trying to do for the UK edtech scene, I just don’t think in this case that pitting an established edtech company against startups was the right approach.
* Disclosure – I am an minority investor in Reward System.