Every month, Blume Ventures’s Delhi office hosts an event called Chai & Chatter. We bring together investors, entrepreneurs, founders, hustlers and dreamers and engage them in an honest conversation about what we can do better. It allows us to embody what Blume has always aimed at doing– fostering a sense of community and working with it to support a diverse, inclusive, and equitable ecosystem.
Each Chai & Chatter is devoted to a single topic. The event starts early evening with a brief presentation on this topic, followed by a panel discussion on the same, and is wrapped up with informal interactions between attendees. We had our fifth Chai & Chatter yesterday; this one was dedicated to EdTech, and was themed around the topic of Putting the ‘Ed’ back in EdTech.
Why did we pick this theme?
As EdTech takes its place as one of the most exciting investment opportunities in India, we were keen to understand whether funding and impact moved hand in hand. Was the focus on scaling and monetization missing out on equity and inclusion? Will the edtech startups of tomorrow focus as much on the problems that impact millions of ordinary Indian such as skilling? And so the stage was set for a conversation on the EdTech sector, between, as my colleague Harnidh Kaur puts it, between the people who created its foundation, and those will to break it to jump ahead.
To enable and sustain a diverse set of views, we put together a panel of two entrepreneurs Akshay Chaturvedi of Leverage Edu (a Blume portfolio co) and Shreyasi Singh, Harappa Education, an investor Pranjal Kumar of Bertelsmann, a large business-owner and investor, Gaurav Jhunjhnuwala of S Chand, and finally Meeta Sengupta who “works at the cusp of policy and practice in the areas of education and skilling”. The panel was moderated by me, given that I oversee investments in edtech for Blume.
The hour plus panel discussion had many diverse threads. It is hard to capture all of this in a single article. So what we will do is to extract key highlights and learnings from the panel discussion. What has been included, is of course subjective. But we hope it will serve as an initial scratchpad to list learnings, and use it as a base to explore topics around this space.
We have divided the highlights into three key themes which emerged across the evening. Let us start with the first.
Ed and Tech are joined at the hip
Pranjal Kumar of Bertelsmann took a shot at the theme of the panel, Putting the ‘Ed’ back in EdTech, by saying as far as he was concerned, the two were tightly joined. Education needs scale he said for it to truly transform lives. In a country like India, scale comes with affordability, and for affordability to work, unit economics become critical. And for unit economics to work, we need tech to influence costs. And that is why tech is an integral part of EdTech. Ed and Tech are so integrated per him that we should take all that worked in traditional education and replicate it in EdTech.
Meeta Sengupta raised the point of whether in trying to replicate traditional education in EdTech, whether we are underselling the disruptive potential of EdTech. She also challenged the prevailing paradigm of education being transformed by tech stating that ”20 years of education data has proven that tech has not yet delivered the outcome it was supposed to! “
Shreyasi Singh shared a wisecrack stating that education is the only service or product that someone will pay the full price, often in advice, but not utilize. This indicates how complex the challenges of EdTech are. It needs two hands to clap. She also alluded to the futility of asking EdTech to take on more than it can chew. Not even the best universities, she said, can articulate life outcomes. At best they can help in job outcomes. If that is the case, then to expect Edtech to create magical impact is futile.
Look at the demand side, or think of the teacher
A key theme in yesterday’s discussion was on the lack of interest by edtech startups in solutions aimed at Indian teachers. At ~10m, the Indian teacher community is not a trivial number. So why aren’t there products like classdojo or edmodo?
Meeta Sengupta suggested that one reason is that much of the prevalent education discussion is being approached from the supply side, and not the demand side, i.e., we don’t ask the teacher what she needs, rather we thrust the solution down his or her throat.
Pranjal described three personas of the teachers – the born-to-teach ‘career teacher’, the fence sitter and the stopgap teacher. An increasing number of products need to cater to the fence sitters and the stopgap teachers, and enhance their productivity, in order for them to be able to be effective at their job. Gaurav Jhunjhnuwala described two products that S Chand is working on and how they were aimed at the fence sitters and the stopgap teachers. The first helped the teacher coordinate between the smart class courseware, the S Chand textbook, and the Byju’s app. It allowed her to navigate the same concept across all of these three formats. Another was an app that broke down the course to bite-sized chunks and gave detailed instructions on how to run the classroom.
One challenge in this area, Meeta Sengupta shared, was that these worlds, that of educationists and business-tech managers were entirely different. Even their vocabularies were different. The business managers spoke in terms of efficiency, while education was anti-efficiency; it concerned itself with individual growth and potential. Hence there is greater scope for misunderstanding.
What opportunities are edtech startups not building?
Following on from the discussion about teachers and how there isn’t enough products aimed at them, one key axis of discussion was around enhancing teaching or increasing the supply of teachers.
Shreyasi Singh felt an app that could bring non-traditional, high quality part-time teachers to the classroom, an uber for teachers, could be a winner. So could student-mentor platforms, she said to which Akshay chimed that, in Leverage Edu he was building one! Leverage Edu’s mentorship platforms allowed an applicant to be mentored by an alum of the school he was applying to and thus get an edge in his application.
Meeta Sengupta saw an opportunity in the number of civic projects and internships that students in Classes 9-12th have to undertake in order to build an attractive profile for college admission. She wondered whether a startup could intermediate between students and corporates / civic organizations. Perhaps the actual onsite component could be as low as 20% and the rest of the work could happen online, thereby reducing costs and enhancing con: in the study abroad space- 9th-12th civic projects.
Pranjal had a long list of microsegments in the EdTech space that excited him such as the gig economy, online program managers such as 2U in the USA but for India, bootcamps, english language training etc. The overarching theme he offered was whether you are building for India or the world? He felt education was one product that can actually become global coming out of India. If you have solved for India, you can solve for the world, he said.
And on that optimistic note, let us call it a close here!