Tag Archives: startup

Science Center as an Ecosystem Hub

This is the third and (at least for now) final part of my science center blog post trilogy. Previous posts were about interactivity and  project-based learning.


In my first post I emphasized interactivity and how that separates science museums from traditional ones. Museum goers not only passively look at exhibits. Instead, they become active subjects by operating the exhibits.

Maker movement brings the interactivity phenomenon even further. Rather than allowing the visitors to interact with ready-made exhibits, why not give them components, modules, and tools to tamper with? They can then build their own exhibits for themselves and other visitors to enjoy.

Maker culture is connected with robotics startups. Hardware components are becoming cheaper and more powerful, creating new opportunities for all kinds of gadget creators. For example, who would’ve thought ten or even five years ago that you could buy a computer with $35? This is nevertheless the case currently with Raspberry Pi. My point? A science center can partner with startups to provide broader offering than it could alone.

In modern business the mantra goes that you should focus on your core strength and do the rest via partnering. This applies to science centers, too. Decades ago centers built their own factories and operated in a somewhat self-contained fashion. These days it is possible to leave the large scale manufacturing to subcontractors, and concentrate on innovating and maybe building the first prototypes.

To sum up: science centers are including other players in their ecosystem. They let visitors to interact with their exhibits and this can be boosted with allowing them to make, tweak, and tune the exhibits. They can partner with technology startups to expand offering and create mutual value. Finally, they can streamline their processes via subcontracting.

Flickr image CC credits: USFWS – Pacific Region

EnhancEDU is On!

EnhancEDU launch

Snapshots from the EnhancEDU launch

We finally kicked off our EnhancEDU startup program last Wednesday at Slush. We got a room full of people interested in our program and visiting the stands. I am so proud of this, especially since were competing against the Slush 100 pitching finalists who were on stage at the same time. Slush edtech track also partially overlapped with our event, so there’s reason to be very satisfied.

We first described the goals and structure of our program, followed by a good two hours of mingling and demos. In addition to Sanoma people, we had fine companies presenting a wide variety of products. Big thanks to all of them for their valuable input!

That is indeed what EnhancEDU is about. Our main interest is in K-12, but within that scope we are looking for all kinds of edtech startups to boost learning innovations. You can find some relevant trends we are hoping to address from John Martin‘s keynote, presented at Slush edtech track just before the EnhancEDU launch:

So, all systems are go! The program has been launched and we are now processing the contacts we’ve received from you. We want more, mind, so go to our website and submit yours. We’ll also organize events where you can present your products to get feedback and coaching by our experts. The first event will take place in Heureka, the Finnish Science Centre, on February 12th, 2015.


#EnhancEDU Launch Event Coming Up

It is always better to go to a conference with a presentation, poster, booth, or some other personal mission rather than as a mere spectator. If you present, you are more likely to be approached by others which might result in something useful. As a regular visitor nobody knows what you do or represent until you speak up.

I haven’t been to Slush for many years. Actually, last time was in 2009 when I chaired a panel discussion about how to reward & motivate users on the web. Slush has since grown to be a huge event. This year it sells some 10 000 tickets. I’ll be there again this time, now hosting a specific session for edtech startups.

Our event is a launch for a program we call EnhancEDU. As the name suggests, it aims at enhancing current edtech market with new innovations. We invite companies to approach us and present their products & services. In return, we can provide them with a wide reach in Finnish K-12 market, as well as mentoring and coaching.

At the launch event we will describe the program in more detail. In addition, there will be a couple of interesting startups presenting their products.

So, if you recognize yourself as target audience or otherwise interested in this, contact us via the program’s web site. Furthermore, if you are coming to Slush, be sure not to miss our event. See you there!

Open Education Challenge Finalists Roundup

As I promised in my previous post, now a bit more detail about the cool startups currently going through the Open Education Challenge program. First a clarification: this is not a EC framework project of sorts, but running on private funding. EC is there to support, but VCs run the show financially.

The Open Education Challenge teams and mentors

The Open Education Challenge teams and mentors

And now, the finalists… what a wonderful bunch of entrepreneurs! I got to spend a bit more time with three of them, namely Funbrush, Think with Things, and Harness, but got to meet all of them and exchange at least some ideas.

Funbrush has a truly unique idea of getting kids to spend more time and pay more attention to brushing teeth. They do this by virtue of a cool iPad app where wild animals have food stuck in their teeth and depending on how a child brushes his/her teeth has impact on whether the animal’s mouth gets fully clean or not – what a brilliant approach!

Think with Things is going to develop a solution where the teachers and students can jointly engage in activities with simple physical objects like bottle caps, pine cones, and shapes cut of cardboard. These physical objects have their digital counterparts, as well as ready-made learning journeys where the objects are put to use. The users can tweak the ready-made journeys as well as create their own ones. Being a fan of augmented reality, I see many opportunities to take this further.

Harness does the one thing that we hear from teachers all the time: get all relevant tools from one place, in a unified environment & UI. Their Unio environment has been integrated to and promoted by Edmodo, and no wonder, it is so clean and intuitive.

I also chatted with the KLAP team, who are going to apply analytics & big data techniques to all kinds of learning content, with the aim to personalize learning and outcomes. Very ambitious and important goal to strive for. Cubes Coding is giving physical cubes to kids who can then organize them into a series, which makes a robot do various things in a row. These can be children who cannot even read yet. More of that please!

Domoscio is basically an alert service for reminding you about the things you still need to go through before your important test. I for one surely would’ve liked to have that when I was studying. GroupMooc organizes your MOOC courses into a single unified view. This is a nice service e.g. for large corporations who train their employees with various online courses. Finally, Atta provides a social layer on top of digital content, bringing it to life in form of groupwork and other community activities. I love the ant giving the hint that there is an Atta activity going on.

Helsinki was the first pit stop for these fantastic startups. I wish them best of luck in Paris and other places they are going to visit during this fall when they go through their incubation program. My main message to all of them was (and still is): no matter how much you pivot with your customer base, revenue models, etc., do not lose that one unique thing you started the endeavor in the first place. That is what makes it fun for you. Hopefully, for bunch of others, too.


EU Supports Nurturing #Edtech Startups and That’s Great

Open Education Challenge

I used to work as a researcher for more than six years at VTT, the technical research centre of Finland. It is actually the longest gig I’ve done in my career, and a very interesting one at that!

At VTT we used to get funding to our research projects both from companies and governments. One significant source of research funding is the European Commission. We’d send applications to EC’s framework programme calls together with universities, companies, and other research institutes across Europe. Sometimes we got lucky and scored funding for a couple of years.

Now I’ve been working in the private sector since 2008. I must say that looking in retrospect some of our projects lacked true market demand and contact with the end user. That’s why I’m delighted that these days the Commission has also more business-oriented instruments in their portfolio to find new innovations.

One of those is the Open Education Europa. They are currently organizing an edtech startup challenge and incubation program. I am lucky to be one of their mentors in Helsinki.

Next week I’ll be coaching Atta, a social media platform for learning; Cubes Coding, a robot programming platform for as young as three year olds; Domoscio, an adaptive learning engine; Funbrush, an interactive toothbrush(!); GroupMooC, a service for organizing your MOOCs; Harness, a blended learning & classroom flipping service; KLAP, an adaptive learning and analytics product; Think with Things, an application for turning any physical and digital objects to learning resources.

So this should be interesting! I’ll write another post once I am done with them.


Five #EdTech Startups You’re Going to Hear From

Last week I had a great opportunity to sit down with five impressive educational technology startups and comment on their products & businesses. The occasion was Sanoma’s startup challenge co-located with The Next Web conference in Amsterdam and I was one of the mentors – what an honor!

The five finalists were all addressing different challenges related to education, making it very hard to prioritize them. They were:

  • EduKey from Wales, with the Class Charts product. Class Charts aims to facilitate teachers’ daily lives by providing an easy way to restructure class seating according to different criteria.
  • Eduvee from England. Eduvee is a curation platform combining commercial content with open web resources, offering nice dashboards & other tools along the way.
  • Jumpido from Bulgaria. Jumbido is a Kinect-game, mashing together physical and learning exercises.
  • Labster from Denmark. Labster offers an immersive 3D laboratory environment for running simulations and experiments, which would otherwise require very expensive equipment.
  • WeWantToKnow from Norway, with the DragonBox game. DragonBox is a popular mathematics game, taking an innovative approach in combining gaming and equations.

All teams gave great pitches. It was easy to tell that these startups had already been around for a while and presented their things to various stakeholders. They knew their products inside and out, making it easy to engage in discussions with us mentors. You’re going to hear from these guys!

Labster eventually won the challenge, mainly by virtue of two reasons: potential of making a big impact in education, and an excellent team running the show. Congratulations Mads & the rest of Labster!

One of my personal favorites was DragonBox. It has so novel and innovative approach to combining gaming & maths. You often see these two things quite separated in apps, but not this time. I just installed DragonBox on my iPad, planning to dive in today with my 6 year old daughter.


Entrepreneurialism to Schools?

My employer Sanoma is currently doing a good job with what we call “Accelerator programs”. The essence of these programs is to teach lean startup methodologies to corporate people via concrete idea development and validation process. Intrapreneurship, that’s what it is about.

So far we’ve completed two programs and the third one is currently on. Last year I enrolled to the first program, Mobile Accelerator, and really liked it. For the second one, Content Accelerator, I took part as an evaluator of learning-related ideas. Now we have Commerce Accelerator going on and I am coaching student participants.

For the first two programs we had people from within Sanoma only, but now we are inviting also higher ed students to join. I think this is great! Entrepreneurialism has started to make its way big time to Finnish higher education institutions and it is awesome if we can support this trend.

What about K-12, then? As we know, children have the window open to learn new things effortlessly. If entrepreneurialism, intrapreneurialism, startup-culture, and lean methods are so important, why don’t we teach them earlier? It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that entrepreneurial thinking is alien to people if they were always taught to be risk-averse when growing up.

Albemarle County School District in Virginia, USA, is addressing this. They have started with the maker approach which is probably a good choice. Building stuff is concrete and gets children interested and motivated. It also expands student-centered education beyond the traditional “creative” arts subjects to “harder” ones like STEM.

Once the children have designed and built their own things, they can go on and validate how they work, think about how to get their friends to use them (marketing), and return to the drawing board to make them better.

What do you think, should startup thinking (and doing!) be taught to children?