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Ed-tech maturing but lagging on social inclusion: Panellists at VCCircle summit

Educational-technology companies have helped disrupt the education sector in the country by offering personalised learning opportunities and reducing cost but must do more to drive social inclusion, panellists at News Corp VCCircle's Education Investment Summit 2018 said on Thursday.

A panel comprising Gaja Capital general partner Imran Jafar, Unitus Seed Fund partner Srikrishna Ramamoorthy and Bertelsmann Investments & Corporate Center India principal Pranjal Kumar talked about a range of issues during a discussion on the theme "Investors’ overview of Education" at the summit. The panel was moderated by Omidyar Network principal Namita Dalmia.

The panelists discussed their preferable theme or criteria they look at an entrepreneur in ed-tech category and highlighted the trends in the segment they see either as an investor or in general.

Jafar said he expects an entrepreneur to demonstrate evidence of services that a customer would pay for. “We want to see an early adaptor, a robust sales team, someone who can see the products efficiently and early signs of profitability,” he said.

Jafar said India is a big playground for education-focussed investors because around 100 million households spend up to $800 a year and this includes personalised learning that is being provided by ed-tech players.

Dalmia said impact investor Omidyar seeks those players which offer services that target low-income population and focus on social mobility.

Ramamoorthy of Unitus, which has backed several ed-tech startups in the recent past, cited the examples of portfolio firms Cuemath and Hippocampus that he said gave a lot of parents scope to educate their children even outside the confinement of traditional institutions.

The panellists pointed out several interesting trends that they have seen not only in the ed-tech segment but also in the individuals running those businesses.

Jafar said ed-tech has enabled students to quench the thirst of learning at places where they feel comfortable. “If you have seen earlier in the K-12 space, it was school and then tutorial at homes. Now, children can have the pleasure of learning at convenience,” he said.

He added that Gaja Capital, which has seen 2018 as one of the most active years in terms of investment in the education sector, said the firm has reinvested in sports education company KOOH Sports and ed-tech venture Educational Initiatives Pvt. Ltd. He said ed-tech has also enabled students to not only pursue their career in streams such as sports and music.

Kumar of Bertelsmann mentioned three trends that he could see in the entreprenuers. He pointed out that ed-tech icons such as Byju Raveedran, who grabbed the headlines this week after his startup's valuation soared to $3.6 billion, is inspiring new-age startups. 

“After Byju’s incredible growth, people are idolizing him. This is like what Binny Bansal and Sachin Bansal did with Flipkart,” Kumar said, adding that entrepreneuers have enough maturity and clarity to think bigger.

Kumar also mentioned that earlier only technology almuni were getting into technology businesses and many of them didn't know how to navigate with a flexible business model. “Now, educators such as teachers are becoming entreprenuers in the space,” he said.

Another intersesting trend is globalisation. “India offers a huge talent pool which is addressing global markets and its needs,” Kumar said.
However, there were notes of disagreement on the benefits of technology in education from another veteran in the sector.

Earlier in the day, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, vice-chancellor of Ashoka University, said in a keynote address at the summit that ed-tech companies have yet to show social inclusion.

He said that tech companies may have brought innovation that will reshape pedagogy but, in reality, these technologies are unable to reduce the cost of learning. “We are yet to see such business models because now also technology in education is in need of human capital.”

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