Bielefeld’s Ed Tech initiative makes the education system digital

Seed funding in NRW
Digital tutoring for the education sector

From homework cloud to continuing education platform: Startups can change learning – but often have to make sales deductions. The Land of North Rhine-Westphalia is now financing the Bielefeld initiative “EdTech Next” with three million euros.

Blackboard, overhead projector and class register: still familiar companions in many classrooms – even though the school system has had to go through a digital sprint over the past two years. An initiative by NRW now wants to ensure that more start-ups are created in this sector in the future. With these assignments, the “EdTech Next” project in Bielefeld started on Tuesday, April 26. “EdTech” is short for “Educational Technology”. This buzzword is used by start-ups around the world that focus on digital solutions for the world of education – from primary school to university to professional development.

The organization Founders Foundation from Bielefeld and the consulting and event agency Eduvation, which focuses on the education sector, are responsible for the project. The NRW Ministry of Economy is providing funding of three million euros for the next three years, with project partners also contributing a small share. “Education is a key success factor for the future of North Rhine-Westphalia as an economic location,” Economics Minister Andreas Pinkwart (FDP) said in a press release. “With their unconventional approaches and high innovation rate, start-ups make an important contribution to digitization.”

Training Turbo for EdTech Founders

The EdTech Next project aims to build momentum in several ways. On the one hand, there is a training program: founders who are interested in the education sector should be helped at an early stage. In an eight-week “start-up school” that begins for the first time at the end of summer, participants learn the basics of the entrepreneurial journey. At the same time, they can meet co-founders with different skills there. “It doesn’t have to be three study advisors starting a business together,” smiles Dominik Gross, CEO of the Founders Foundation.

The second stage is a twelve-month support during which start-ups will continue to be supported in their first steps. “Ideally they can then stand on their own two feet,” Gross says as a goal. The Founders Foundation, financed by the Bertelsmann Foundation, developed the basic structure of this training program a few years ago. However, the focus is on young start-ups that develop solutions for medium-sized companies in East Westphalia. A dedicated team of seven people will take care of education in the future.

On the other hand, EdTech Next wants to work on building a so-called ecosystem for the sector. The aim is to bring together participants from different interest groups. In addition to start-ups, this includes representatives of municipalities, federal states or the federal government – and large companies curious about new products: “It’s about the Microsofts of this world, but also about publishers like Klett” , says Gross. the possible partner line. Co-organizer Eduvation is a founding member of the European Edtech Alliance, so an international exchange should be successful in the future. A separate “EdTech Next Summit” is also planned for the end of October in Bielefeld. Trade fairs such as “Didacta”, which takes place in Cologne in June, also serve as stages.

Difficult search for good pots

But as great as the potential is: unlike other sectors, some founders are turning away from the education sector. And even professional financiers are cautious. “Very little has been invested in this area so far,” Gross says. The reason: The situation is often complicated, especially for start-ups that want to win schools or universities as customers. Not all administrations are open to digital experimentation, not all communities release budgets for such projects. “You work in a very fragmented area,” Gross explains.

Tutoring platforms such as GoStudent or Simpleclub, on the other hand, have managed to convince some children – and their paying parents – during the corona pandemic. And start-ups that directly address the training needs of companies with their software are on the right track. The Münster start-up Edyoucated or the Bochum start-up Masterplan, for example, come from NRW and have already been able to raise several million euros in venture capital from investors in recent years.

EdTech Next now wants to help create more success stories in the years to come. The project is based in Bielefeld, but none of the founders have to move. Participants from all over the federal state are invited: “We support start-ups from all over NRW”, says Gross.

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