Edtech start-ups get a boost from new funding

Informal education is a huge growth area — and Edvantage wants to help Israeli firms get in on the act

A teacher using a touchscreen 'smart board' in a Jerusalem classroom. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
A teacher using a touchscreen 'smart board' in a Jerusalem classroom. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Kids — and adults — learn a lot more in informal settings than in formal ones, study after study shows. That means there’s a lot of potential, as well as money, in the informal education sphere.

Entrepreneurs Yair Brosh, Shachar Wilner and Amalia Bryl want to see Israel use its tech and entrepreneurial skills to take advantage of that market.

“Compared to other areas, there haven’t been many Israeli start-ups in education technology,” said Brosh, CEO of digital teaching platform Time to Know, a division of the Aurec Group. “Our new Edvantage project will help start-ups in the edtech area to become the world successes we know they can be.”

A sort of combination venture capital fund and incubator, Edvantage, the external innovation arm of Time to Know, is designed to encourage start-ups in informal education — video tech firms, digital books and learning materials, platforms for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and others. Edvantage is the brainstorm of Time to Know, a veteran Israeli edtech firm that was one of the first to develop digital materials for the classroom in Israel.

According to Amalia Bryl, one of the directors of Edvantage, “In recent years we have seen how start-ups that have passed through an incubator program for three or six months have had a hard time raising money when they leave the program. This, despite the great opportunity inherent in the growing online culture that is transforming the patterns of learning for all ages, providing opportunities for learning, anywhere and anytime.

“Our platform,” added Bryl, “aims to provide a comprehensive program to help develop profitable ventures. Beyond discovering and building technological solutions, we will also assist start-ups gain entrance to international markets.”

Although edtech has not been a local specialty, there have been some Israeli success stories in the field. One such company is Hometalk, the largest home- and garden-knowledge hub on the Internet, which features thousands of instructional videos on do-it-yourself projects, gardening, home decor, crafts, and more.

And one of the biggest edtech firms in the world, Coursera — which runs online MOOCs that serve hundreds of thousands of students around the world — has strong Israeli roots: Daphne Koller, one of Coursera’s founders, received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Hebrew University before going on to Stanford, where she established Coursera with partner Andrew Ng.

Edvantage is only a few months old, and so far has engaged with only a few companies — one of them a video education firm that the team believes will do very well, said Brosh. However, the company eventually hopes to fund six start-ups this year.

“We are planning to provide seed money to these start-ups, probably more than they could get at a VC — but we are also offering them mentoring, business-plan development, and assistance in developing markets. And even space, if they need it,” said Wilner. “We plan on working individually with companies to help them develop their technology and business plan.”

While the education business worldwide is worth about $5.5 trillion annually (30% of which is in the US), a large amount of that is in formal education — the schools. But developing programs for schools is not part of Edvantage’s plans.

“The world of formal education is very different than informal education,” explained Brosh. “There are a lot of regulations and similar issues. We see meanwhile the growth of informal education, and we have identified this as a strong growth area. It’s those companies we plan on targeting and help grow.”

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