I spent Friday, March 24, at the University of Helsinki where I attended training sessions for EdTech entrepreneurs and then a meet and greet with xEdu, the EdTech accelerator in Finland.
xEdu provides these companies with business courses and coaching and access to research, government and public authorities, educational buyers in Finland, educational buyers in targeted countries, larger companies, and talent.
For background, there are two types of organizations that help companies achieve sustainability. Incubators help companies from the idea stage through to prototype or product and possibly first customers. Accelerators help companies from first product to sustainable revenue. xEdu is an accelerator.
The xEdu portfolio companies include
- 5 More Minutes: a platform to use popular games for education (my client)
- 3D Bear: a tablet app that gamifies 3D printing
- Mightifier: an app that encourages kids to give each other positive feedback and raises self esteem, decreases bullying, and thus improves learning results
- Seppo: an app that allows teachers to create games from real-world quests and experiences outside the classroom and to follow student progress
I attended a session on modeling social impact, a session on telling your story, and a meet and greet with a delegation of potential partners and buyers from China.
If you’re going to create an education business, you need to make a clear case for the impact you are going to have. That’s why teachers and schools will use your product, and it’s a good part of why investors will invest in your company.
The session modelled how to document and talk about your impact:
- What is the need that potential buyers and users face?
- Define your goal; what is your company or product going to change?
- What are you providing?
- What are users going to do to use your product or service?
- How is using your product going to change the users and how do they benefit?
- What is the long term benefit and impact to the broader community or society?
Modeling a company’s social impact is an important iterative process for EdTech companies. This session was very well done, and it is very similar to what we do with our portfolio companies.
Decisions to purchase or use a product are generally emotional although justified and backed up by logic. Too many entrepreneurs, especially at technology companies, focus only on the data and logic, and ignore the power of the story to sway others to their vision.
Stories are such a key element of communicating about any company or product; they can hit the emotional center of the right audience. But this session, and the model provided to create a story were so weak, that I was incredibly frustrated; I couldn’t sit still. No one, not even the presenter, could tell a story that would motivate a potential user or buyer.
This is what should have been covered.
A story has to be personal; it has to be about a person in a specific situation.
The purpose of the story is to have the reader or listener identify with the main person, the problem(s) that the person faced, and the results that the person wants to achieve. After the story, you want the listener to be thinking, “people like me use products like this” (to borrow from Seth Godin).
Your business needs multiple stories, because there are multiple roles for the different people who will use or buy a product, and you have to have a story that matches the main roles.
One model for writing the story is
- This is the problem this person faced.
- These were the implications of the problem existing and not being solved.
- This is how the person was personally affected.
- This is what they did to solve the problem (and possibly how they came to the decision to do that).
- This is how they did it.
- These were the results and how they felt about using the product.
- This is how you can achieve the same results
Companies need to develop stories about how they were founded, why they exist, what they are doing for customers, and the effect they are having. The stories need to be tailored for different targeted audiences and media. Good stories allow a company to grow, thrive, and survive.
Meet and Greet
At the meet and greet, each of the portfolio companies made a presentation to the Chinese delegation, and then set up a temporary office for a longer discussion with interested parties. The delegation consisted of media executives, school administrators, and teachers.
I was very impressed with 5 More Minutes and also with Seppio. At 5MM, we were able to make a good connection with a potential partner and an operator of 14 schools.
There are some really cool EdTech companies in Finland. All the companies I saw are developing their products in English, and preparing for markets outside of Finland. The Finnish government is helping these companies with grants and low-interest loans that do not have a personal guarantee. xEdu is providing coaching and connections. It’s a great experiment to see if that improves their chances of success. I think it will.