The corona crisis has given tremendous momentum to the development of start-ups focusing on online education and homeworking. This week Innovation Origins will therefore pay extra attention to start-ups in this edtech sector. This is the last article in the serie.
There is not an entrepreneur around who’d dare say this out loud: but surely the spread of this cruel virus is the ticket to success for start-ups that have been working for quite some time on a product aimed at online learning or working from home? In entrepreneurial circles, they call these markets ‘ed-tech’, a contraction of educational technology and remote working/home office technology.
This sense of shame towards success in times of corona is not justified. After all, the start-ups that are doing well now have often already spent quite a few years struggling to raise funding, develop their products and attract clients. It is precisely for this reason that these companies are now doing so well. Their innovative, well-balanced products have proven to be ideal solutions. Now that, in order to curb the spread of COVID-19, schoolchildren have had to learn from home, and office workers have had to do their work from home as well.
Print things out at the office from home
After downloading AnyDesk software free of charge, employees all over the world are able to print documents out at the office from, for example, their own homes. This is a German start-up that provides an integrated software framework that enables all systems on all wireless and mobile devices to communicate with any system anywhere in the world. Its teething problems were already sorted out before the virus crisis broke out. Therefore the users didn’t experience any problems at all with it. What a stroke of luck!
The same goes for the online teaching packages from the Utrecht-based start-up Faqta: they took off on the internet now that, among other things, primary schools had to provide children with lessons at home. At first, many teachers were reluctant to buy the online lessons from Faqta because they wanted to prepare the lessons themselves, regardless of whether they knew a lot about the subjects or not. In this period of spending all this time at home, they didn’t have much else at their disposal. So, all of a sudden they were happy to make use of Faqta’s offer to download lessons free of charge during the crisis.
The question now is: will these start-ups still have sales once the crisis is over? Or will schools, teachers, companies, managers and employees dump the applications of the new technology as soon as they can?
What will become of online learning and working? Will any of it remain in place?
Most entrepreneurs don’t think this way. Take Martin Meulenkamp from 2DAYSMOOD, a start-up that has developed a tool to gauge employees’ feelings about their work on a daily or weekly basis via a user-friendly app. He thinks that employees no longer feel like being stuck in traffic five days a week.
He himself lives in Schiedam, and normally he would be on the road to Utrecht for hours if he were driving. As the roads are constantly congested, even if you go home at three or four in the afternoon. A waste of time, he says. He knew that all along. But now that it has been proven that you can do a lot of work from home, he thinks that working from home is set to become ‘the new normal.’ In the time that you would otherwise be stuck in a car, you can now play with your children, play sports, enjoy cooking and eating more elaborately or meet up with friends. Simply put, it will turn you into a more relaxed person. And you can just carry on doing your work as per usual.
Employers also benefit since the commute costs that they reimburse will be lower. In times of overcrowded trains and subways and traffic jams, the government also has an interest in encouraging people to work from home. Tackling traffic jams is both difficult and expensive. They have to build more roads and bridges and that costs billions. Expanding train capacity and metro networks also cost billions. If you can limit this expenditure by working from home, it will save the public treasurer – who is already running out of money as a result of this crisis – a great deal of money.
Ingrained routines in schools
As far as online learning is concerned, it will likely be more complicated. As soon as the children go back to school, teachers will take over the lessons once more and pick up their old, ingrained routines again. However, what might be interesting for teachers is that they can pluck lessons from the internet. Such as those from the LessonUp website. This saves them time and immediately provides them with new teaching materials that cost them nothing. Schools only have to pay when they apply for a license to be able to take online tests and provide homework assistance this way.
If it turns out that the online lessons lead to better results – and results bring in more money for the school – as founder Klaas Lameijer of Symbaloo expects from the United States, they will definitely turn out to be a keeper. Children in the US get a scholarship to study if they achieve very high grades. Lest we forget, studying is extremely expensive there. That puts extra pressure on American schools to ensure that the children do as well as possible.
But maybe even the Dutch schools that were learning online before the corona crisis will continue to use Faqta’s teaching packages. After all, these lessons are made for teachers who are not specialists in subjects such as biology, art history, or music. Because most primary schools do not have specialist teachers, their regular teachers have to give these lessons. Of course, plenty of children’s parents have now also seen the specialist lessons offered by Faqta. That’s because their children were following them at home. Maybe they will start asking for these at school once everything has gone back to ‘normal’ again. Maybe that would make all the difference.
‘Corona shame’ doesn’t make any sense
What “the new normal” will be, nobody knows. But it is clear that these start-ups have jumped into the void that was created by the corona crisis. Some entrepreneurs are even embarrassed about that. They don’t want to be known as greedy opportunists, so now they give away their services for free. Whereas, all thanks to these entrepreneurs, everyone has been able to keep on going and make ends meet.
Large established companies such as airline company KLM have been promised billions in government support. Start-ups don’t get that much. It’s always been a case of wheeling and dealing to raise money from investors so they can further develop their own products. But things are really bad for them at present. You don’t hear them complaining. They’d rather be working on their own products. But if TechLeap hadn’t sounded the alarm, they probably would have all been completely overlooked.
Today’s start-ups are tomorrow’s lifesavers
Of course, the state does have a major stake in KLM. Therefore, not supporting KLM would also have incurred huge losses. But it really is the start-ups that are keeping the economy afloat right now. You never hear anybody mention that. Maybe it’s a good idea to take a moment to think about that as well. Today’s start-ups are tomorrow’s lifesavers.