Scaling an edtech startup in emerging markets
By Henry Motte-Munoz, CEO and Founder of Edukasyon.ph
Education in ASEAN and emerging markets is likely to play a major role in development over the next few decades. And while there are countless opportunities of growth in this industry, there still lies a major gap.
Edtech is beginning to fill that gap but, as aspirational as that sounds, there are still challenges it will have to face.
First, education in emerging markets is a traditional industry that is difficult to disrupt. Second, emerging markets are less likely to adopt the technology as quickly as developing markets. Scaling the edtech landscape, then, becomes a two-pronged battle: disrupting the institution that is education; and introducing digital technology to a world where technology has yet to catch up vis-à-vis developing markets.
Be inclined to work with the education industry
Education industries in emerging markets are deeply entrenched in their own societies, and it is much easier to swim with the tide than against it.
Systematically, there is high value given to students that have gone through the traditional education system. High paying jobs are more likely to be offered to graduates with degrees from prestigious schools. And parents are more likely to trust the traditional education system over an edtech initiative.
Culturally, people associate partners of the education industry with credibility: to work with the brands of these partners provides high value in emerging markets.
Hence, one must be willing to work with the industry, rather than against it, despite edtech’s potential to disrupt the education landscape. To really be able to impact change, you need to leverage the systems, connections and credibility already instilled through the system.
“Be prepared to engage with the education industry, work on establishing strong relationships with people you think can take your initiative to the next level, and be hands-on in determining ways to make your initiative even stronger.”
Find the right partners
In line with working with the education industry, it is also essential to find other partners to help you scale. Ask yourself which stakeholder has the greatest amount of influence in your respective market. For us, it is establishing partnerships with government and influential individuals.
Working with the government helps us comprehend the education industry’s needs, understand and work with the country’s national education agenda, and establish connections with other institutions. Secondly, we work with thought leaders and other with influencers whose opinions really matter, across industry, in the Philippines.
Finding the right partners also means saying no to partners who would not add any value to the business. This means making the tough decisions and saying no to invites from potential education or edtech partners, conferences or speaking engagements that would only eat up valuable time.
“Education industries in emerging markets are deeply entrenched in their own societies, and it is much easier to swim with the tide than against it.”
Get your hands dirty
While we are working in the digital sphere, it is important to have an offline aspect to your work.
Whether we like it or not, emerging markets are not as receptive to digital technology as developing markets, which makes it an uphill battle to run any digital business.
What we’ve found is that people still value face-to-face interaction; they are willing to migrate to digital after that interaction. In other words, you must introduce your technology to people in person.
For Edukasyon.ph, we have a combined online-offline acquisition strategy, which involves conducting fairs and seminars to migrate our students online. With this kind of approach, it allows us to do several things: build tangible credibility to students, parents, and even schools; establish concrete relationships with our stakeholders; and maintain dialogue in introducing our technology to our users.
Driving an edtech initiative in a country that has yet to embrace the value of it is not easy. With the right steps to drive it forward, you can make the difference in growing your edtech initiative.
Be prepared to engage with the education industry, work on establishing strong relationships with people you think can take your initiative to the next level, and be hands-on in determining ways to make your initiative even stronger.