If start-ups act as lead market indicators, the latest set of education start-ups, entreprenuers, and venture capital in the Asia-Pacific region are focused squarely on mobile access, student engagment, language and social platforms. The small selection laid out below, stretching back over the past 12 months or so, provides some indication of what types of educational challenges are finding innovative solutions. Unlike the US, there is far less start-up activity focused on high education but that is unlikely to last long.
Where is the region heading?
China’s education technology needs are focused on deep access and quality around the functional areas of test preparation, English language, K-12 and early childhood learning. The trend toward flipped classrooms and cram tutoring, after a previous investment mania around college-centered business models, has neatly transfered to technology investment. It is also no coincidence that household education spending is greatest at the K12 level, in part due to highly subsidized college tuitions, and less onerous regulations. English language training remains a vital link as well, as several new start-ups indicate.
San Ren Xing is a social learning platform that allows teachers, parents, students and others to share lessons and interact. It is akin to a China’s leading social networking Weibo platform (with content/character limits) except that it is focused squarely on the education mission. The technology may be particularly helpful in overseeing and tracking study progress, as has been developed to high degree of specificity in the Korean hagwon or cram school market.
FluentFlix (FluentU) was developed to help Mandarin Chinese learners through video content, clips, advertisement, instruction and social interaction drawing on content from the web across various contexts and genres. It is China-based, globally focused; very contemporary and useful (wish I had access to such when learning Mandarin long ago…). Another language start-up, this time in more standard English language learning, is iKnowEnglish (not related to Cerego’s iKnow platform in Japan). In this crowded market iKnowEnglish has created a mobile-based ELL platform for use on iOS and Android with voice readers, chat functions and other features.
Information crowdsourcing and sharing is another area. Hudong Baike is an interactive online encylopedia and news network (a Chinese wiki, basically). Both have educational applications.
SmarTots is not a start-up; however it is plying some new areas in the education App market. The company recently raised an A Round from Softbank Ventures Korea to localize education apps in China and sell them over iTunes. Essentially SmarTots provides the marketing and distribution expertise to bridge kids app developers from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere.
Japan continues to a leader in mobile learning and related applications. Last year Cloudstudy Inc opened a new platform called StudyPlus, which is used mainly by students who want a platform to exchange information for test preparation related to college entrance and exams such as the TOIEC. LanguageCloud, backed by Digital Garage and 500 Startups, is an online class management system that is focused primarily on language learning. The company has been in operations in Japan since early 2012 and is soon to scale globally to a market near you.
Singapore’s mature, global and sophisticated education marketplace yields a number of education start-ups in the areas of high-touch, good quality offerings to meet the needs of a discriminating and educated consumer base. Kezaar is a skill sharing marketplace that matches specialists and learners with multimedia content as well as providing workshops and short courses interactively. The focus is on lifelong learning. Stickery is a mobile education gaming app for kids. Bookjetty concentrate on education apps, allowing interation between parents and kids as well as broader book sharing.
Indonesia’s educational needs from access to engagement to quality extend across the board, and it compares poorly to many other East Asian countries, including China. However increased FDI levels, demand for higher skilled labor and a narrowing digital divide are opening up new opportunities. Early intervention in education at the K12 or K-6 levels through B2C tutoring and supplementary learning are a logical fit with the countries continued consumption of digital media.
Our selection centers on K-12 supplementary models and digital content. Hompimplay is an interactive mobile platform centered on childrens education, gaming and media that combines tech, art, and culture games and digital interactive books, all dedicated to kids. A recent product app is ABCDay, which teaches the alphabet to toddlers. SCOOP is an Indonesian-based e-publishing platform with partnerships across Southeast Asia.
A recent partnership betwen SCOOP and Thailand’s Ookbee (also a rapidly growing e-publishing platform) is in the works, consolidating an early presence in Southeast Asia. Both are pure media plays but will focus on education as a target market.
Philippines continues to face challenges in placing its relatively educated workforce in productive jobs, but the BPO and related English-language service sectors are an exception. A new venture Kalibrr has created a platform for call center training and placement, a model which is likely to grow for companies in need of a “one stop shop.” Expect more such vocational-to-work platforms across the Asian region.
Finally, one Korean example will suffice here: KnowRe, an adaptive real-time math tutoring platform whic is currently in beta. As is well known, Korea has pioneered many education technology and gaming concepts in Asia as they apply what they know from their own supercharged education market. Thus it is no surprise that new adapative learning ventures are being developed as the next phase of this cycle. Whether such can be transfered across the Asia region will likely determine ongoing levels of investment in these areas, but expect more such models. KnowRe was part of KStartup, affiliated with Korea’s start-up accelerator and the Google for Entrepreneurs initiative.