RB: I’ve been working in edtech for the last five to six years. I previously worked in technology start-ups, so I knew the technology space. I got into education technology through General Assembly, a US-based education technology company that focuses on teaching people the 21st-century skills that are needed in today’s economy: software engineering, web development, user experience design, digital product manager, digital marketing, all that stuff where there’s a huge demand for people working in those specific fields. They teach through in-person and online courses.
I brought the company to Australia, set it up in Sydney and expanded to Melbourne, then later into Singapore and Hong Kong, where I cut my teeth in running an education company in multiple locations. General Assembly as a whole had 15 to 20 locations around the world.
“The big difference between education and technology is there’s a huge focus on quality in education, as there should be”
The PIE: What were the noticeable differences between the technology sector and the education sector?
RB: There’s some pretty big differences to what I was in before. I ran some fashion tech companies, media tech and advertising tech; they’re all consumer focused. Retail, commerce, those sorts of verticals, which is quite transactional. You’re selling one thing to one person and hoping they’re going to come back.
The big difference around education is there are much higher levels of regulation. There’s a huge focus on quality, as there should be. Quality of education, quality of delivery, quality of teaching methods, teachers and instruction, and heavy emphasis on outcomes. Significant investment, as well. You’re taking a A$15,000-20,000 course where a student’s putting their life on hold for three months to six months. It’s a bigger commitment than buying a piece of fashion online.
All of those differences in the business model were new things for me to get used to, but I want to stay in the edtech industry for the next 20 years. The idea of helping someone gain new skills that they can use to get a job to change their life, it’s great to be a part of that instead of a more transactional type of business.
The PIE: Do those differences present more opportunities?
RB: I think so. I think the [legislation around] quality and regulation create some barriers to entry for people coming into the market, but generally, there’s a huge amount of opportunity in the space. I think there is a lot of change happening in the education market, as everyone in the industry knows, so there’s a huge amount of opportunity there. And combining education and technology – one can’t survive without the other, so bringing those two together is a huge opportunity as an industry.
The PIE: How did you get involved with EduGrowth?
RB: I was asked to get involved through a contact of mine in the industry, [Navitas Ventures chief executive] Patrick Brothers, who was the chairman of EduGrowth at the time and was getting it off the ground. He pitched the idea of a billion learners by 2025 learning from companies and education institutions from around the world. There’s this huge global, borderless education opportunity and we need to bring the start-ups together with the traditional education players.
“There’s this huge global, borderless education opportunity and we need to bring the start-ups together with the traditional education players”
I was sold on the vision from the start. I’ve built individual businesses many times before. I wanted to have a go at building a community organisation working on building an industry.
The PIE: What are the goals of EduGrowth?
RB: The top level goal we have is to build an Australian education industry ecosystem that can serve a percentage of that billion learners by 2025. We want to get 10% for Australian education companies: 100 million learners by 2025.
The sub-level goal is we need a strong educational technology industry. You can’t go and set up campuses all around the world to serve 100 million people, it’s just not going to work. It’s going to be done through scalable systems and through technology. It’s already there, there’s about 350 edtech start-ups in Australia. We want to double that as quickly as we can and continue to grow the industry.
The other big goal we have is to create a collaborative network of all the people within the education industry ecosystem. We want the start-ups talking to the universities, the school principals talking to the start-ups, teachers involved in the equation, international locations and partnerships and students: just trying to create a network for everyone to come together to achieve that goal.
The PIE: The one billion learners statistic comes from a Deloitte Access report referenced in the AIE2025 Roadmap which accompanied the National Strategy. The roadmap only identified a potential 1% of that population for Australia, 10 million learners, so you’re really targeting that market?
RB: I think 1% sounds too easy. We want to set ourselves a bit of a bigger goal that the industry could get behind as well.
What we first need to work out is how far we are towards that goal right now. If we include a start-up like [learning management software] Moodle into that equation, we’ve only got four million left [of the 10 million target]. So, you see, those numbers are quite achievable. Out of those 350 edtech companies, they’re serving millions, tens of millions of learners already through not just traditional education models but online learning through apps, through iPad games. There’s a huge amount of activity already happening, so we want to push a little bit further and go for 10%.
The PIE: What do you define as a learner?
RB: To be honest, we’re still working out the exact definition in terms of working up towards that goal. But it’s someone interacting with or being serviced by a company that’s delivering educational content. That could be micro-courses or several minutes on an iPad game for a primary school student, all the way through to a four- or five-year online MBA degree.
“We’re getting into the area of informal learning or casual learning, at-home learning. It doesn’t have to be in the classroom”
The PIE: So you’re also repositioning what education and learning is?
RB: Yeah, we’re getting into the area of informal learning or casual learning, at-home learning. It doesn’t have to be in the classroom, accredited learning. There’s a huge amount of change that’s happening in the education space so we’re looking at of that.
The PIE: So how is EduGrowth working towards those goals?
RB: We want to create that network, so we run events, we have an online platform, we’re connecting with as many people in the industry as we can. We’ve got this map of stakeholders that are made up of start-ups, universities, teachers, school principals, investors, mentors, everyone that’s interested in working in that space. We want to bring them together in person through events and through our online platform.
Then we have some actual programs that are aligned with our goal of building the edtech industry. We have several acceleration programs that are focused on edtech companies that are in different stages: the early stage, the mid-stage and the late stage. There are launch, full-time and scale accelerator programs.
The PIE: How has EduGrowth been received by institutions and people who have been in the industry for quite a while in a more traditional capacity?
RB: It’s been pretty well received. We have the six founding members that’ve each put in $300,000 for the next five years. We’ve signed up some amazing partners.
“We have the six founding higher education members that’ve each put in $300,000 each for the next five years”
I think it depends on the sector. The higher education sector, I think they’re realising this education technology is really important. It’s going to help them deliver better quality education, it’s going to create some efficiencies for them in all parts of the business, it’s going to make teachers’ and academics’ jobs and lives easier. So we’ve seen some great reception there.
There’s a little lower level of understanding of education technology and its benefits in the K-12 space. There’s a lot of innovation that’s happening; there’s at least half or maybe more edtech companies in Australia focused there. Some of the schools can be inundated by all of the potential solutions they can go to, so we’re also trying to act as a bit of a filter, to be that representative of the edtech companies in the industry, to help those schools understand those opportunities.
The PIE: What are the next steps for EduGrowth after this?
RB: We’ll continue to do more of these programs; we’ll build our network. We want to bring on some more founding partners from other parts of Australia. We have founding partners in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, and we’re looking to bring some partners in South Australia and Western Australia, to allow us to extend that network.
Keep running these programs; increase the amount of people we’re interacting with through the programs; grow the volume in the capacity of the events we’re running, just to make that network bigger and bigger.