With new national strategies focused on increasing digitalization and technical competencies, the Nordic countries are facing an urgent need to innovate within education. A strong ed-tech cluster can help address this.
The public sector has traditionally been lacking in it’s abilities to focus on innovation, which is why often, industry organizations and NGO’s help pick up the slack. When all the associated institutions in a particular field in a region become interconnected, it is called a business cluster.
Strong industry clusters exist across the Nordics, such as in pharmaceuticals and audio technologies. As ed-tech grows in potential and capability, an ed-tech cluster is needed to help shepherd these innovations into education.
Business clusters can sometimes seem counter-intuitive – after all, isn’t the point to have the most competitive business? And what if someone steals your business idea, or worse, takes over your market?
But business clusters are critical to success, as any top startup hub can attest to. And the Nordics have a natural advantage when it comes to the ed-tech industry.
Getting everyone on the “same bus”
In metaphorical terms, as communities develop, all the players are headed in the same direction, but are on different buses. But this can hinder development – as fragmented communities are less able to knowledge-share and support each other.
As clusters defragment, important questions can be answered. What products and services are available? How are they evolving? How can they be more successful? Clusters can also bring the right people together. As Geir Sand Nilsen, founder of Ed-tech Foundry explains, “[You can] create power couples with large institutions and fast-moving startups.” And with raised awareness and strong industry networks, it is easier to “buy, test, and implement educational technologies without bureaucratic burden.”
A strong cluster can both build a collaborative culture around ed-tech in the Nordic region, and pick up the slack where the public sector is lacking.
“In general, the public sector focuses on the infrastructure – just getting a computer or device into schools. What is missing is a parallel investment in network connectivity, competence development, and digital leadership. We need to have a more holistic perspective.”
CEO of Peergrade, David Kofoed Wind, has experienced the need for a cluster firsthand. While he sees huge benefits in connecting with other ed-tech companies, he has difficulty finding them to begin with.
“Our best marketing platform has been learning conferences, where we meet other ed-techs. I am able to learn not just about selling the product, but the pedagogy behind it and how to interact with teacher, e-learning consultants, and administration to get a fuller perspective.”
He agrees that an ed-tech cluster can also advocate for the best policies to grow ed-tech.
“A cluster can really, really increase the visibility of opportunities and best practices. Clusters are all about raising awareness in general – they can not only reach the schools, but the decision makers in the government.”
He is not alone in having difficulty interacting with the ed-tech community.
“The ed-tech cluster has been small and relatively fragmented,” says Viktor Sebes, founder of EdQu. “We haven’t really had too much interaction with other players, except during meetups in fairs or similar.”
While it sees obvious that ed-tech companies could find each other through the startup community, it is important to remember that ed-tech operates in a different type of market, which is often disconnected from the startup ecosystem.
“There’s a lot of startups doing ed-tech but a lot are not doing so well when it comes to raising normal startup KPIs,” David explains.
Taking the first steps
Some countries are off to successful starts, including Norway, which has founded the ed-tech cluster EdTech Norge. “We, and other Norwegian ed-tech companies I’ve talked with, see the cluster as valuable resource well-worth our time. I’m confident they will help us all grow,” says Geir.
In Sweden a new initiative called EdTech Sweden, spearheaded by Jannie Jeppesen, is now taking the first steps to reach out and build an industry stronghold. They are creating the first ever industry mapping of Swedish ed-techs, so there is transparency between all the community players.
Learn more and join the industry mapping here.