In summer 2018, the Danish startup WriteReader joined Kickstart as one of the selected EdTech companies. WriteReader’s learning solution supports children in reading and writing by making kids authors of their own digital books. One year later, WriteReader has established three successful partnerships in Switzerland with the education ministry, a premier football club, and a software education company. Here is Babar Baig, CEO and Co-Founder of WriteReader, sharing his Kickstart story:
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Having been part of several startup accelerator programs previously, we at WriteReader weren’t sure if joining another program would be the right priority for us. We already had a globally working proof-of-concept. Yet, we were convinced by the fact that the Kickstart program is truly partnership-based – the partners, comprising universities, foundations, corporations and other leading Swiss institutions, had a big say when it came to the selection of startups for the program. As a startup, it is a dream scenario to come to a place where several potential partners are present and have already shown interest in your company.
365 days, 3 Partnerships closed across three sectors
It’s been a year since we joined Kickstart. Today, we have three running partnerships in Switzerland. We kept our pipeline broad, yet initially focused on getting a pilot running to validate our learning solution in the Swiss school system.
During the Kickstart program, we were able to launch a pilot project with Swiss primary schools, greatly supported by two leading Swiss foundations, Mercator Foundation Switzerland and Jacobs Foundation, as well as Dybuster, a Swiss EdTech Company. As a foreign company, for WriteReader it would have been impossible to bring such diverse local partners together.
Our initial pilot partner, Dybuster was key to understanding the school landscape in Switzerland. Eventually, WriteReader became a good fit to expand Dybuster’s product portfolio from helping children with dyslexia to general and creative literacy support for children. We are very happy to see that Swiss schools are now able to use our German version “Schreiblabor”.
Through the “Kickstart Partner Safari” which was part of the Kickstart selection process, we met with the Canton of Zurich, that showed interest in exploring how our learning tool built for children would be applicable for basic competency education for adults. Through multiple interactions, we succeeded in agreeing on a 3-year digital flagship agreement for the Government’s e-Lounge, a new basic competency initiative “Lernstuben”.
Our Kickstart advisor, a seasoned Swiss entrepreneur, was a crucial part as well. He introduced WriteReader to the Swiss football club Young Boys Bern. We saw an opportunity emerging to enable sports clubs to use WriteReader as a “Fan Engagement” solution. Today, WriteReader is thrilled to see Young Boys fans create and share their own digital fan books while learning to read and write at the same time!
Keep your focus throughout the program. We had a razor-sharp focus ion the initial pilot. We realized that the basis of potential future partnerships would be dependent on a successful pilot with Swiss schools. Even though we had plenty of proof before, the pilot played out to be an important local signal of the quality of our solution. Time is limited and there is so much to do. So prioritization is key.
Don’t expect things will happen in a few months (it might happen and that would be great) but keep in mind that it’s the long-term commitment of your time that eventually pays off. I have come back to Switzerland 4-6 times after the program and steadily followed up with the contacts initiated through the program. We had a broad pipeline and received several refusals, but the key was to keep pushing gently and to leverage the great network provided by the Kickstart program over time.
About the author:
Babar has over 10 years of experience in operational and strategic marketing. He has previously worked with Danish telecom, TDC and The Society of Danish Engineers. In 2012, Babar co-founded WriteReader enabling children to learn through creation. WriteReader is a scientifically based learning platform that accelerates children’s learning through their own interests.
It’s hard not to notice the fast pace of innovation that is all around us. It touches all aspects of our everyday lives – from the way we commute or communicate to the way we pay for things and produce goods. Education is not an exception. Being one of the key drivers of innovation and progress, the education industry is poised to undergo drastic technological evolution in the coming years.
And as usual, it comes down to startups, that are willing to pursue the disruptive ideas with minimal resources, to drive this evolution. But the question is – where shall they go? We, at Kickstart Accelerator, say – come to Switzerland! With its combined leadership in education and innovation, Switzerland offers a unique environment to accelerate the next generation of EdTech startups that will bring global impact. According to QS World Universities Ranking, four of Swiss universities are in the World’s Top100. Moreover, based on THE World University Rankings, ETH is #1 in Computer Science and EPFL is proudly in #1 place in the ‘Young University Rankings’ (Universities that are less than 50 years old). And the list could go on and on. Undoubtedly, it makes this alpine gem one of the best places to start in or bring an EdTech business to. And that’s exactly what we encourage all startups that work on Education Technology do.
At Kickstart Accelerator, we are super excited to see how this ecosystem will be further enriched by our newly launched EdTech Vertical, in partnership with EPFL and operated by venturelab. The ten most promising international and Swiss EdTech startups will be invited to Lausanne from September to November 2017. They will profit from benefits such as stipends of CHF 10`000, coworking-space at the EdTech Collider as well as access to a broad network of investors, experts, mentors and business partners. They will also have a chance to win cash prizes at the end of the program. Located at the heart of the thriving startup community on the EPFL campus, they will be hosted at the EdTech Collider – Switzerland’s first collaborative space dedicated to ambitious entrepreneurs transforming education and learning through technology.
It is big news for Switzerland. As Nicolas Bürer, Managing Director of digitalswitzerland (initiator of Kickstart Accelerator), says: “The launch of the EdTech vertical in Western Switzerland confirms the commitment and capacity of the region to develop groundbreaking technologies that change people’s lives. The ecosystem here is stimulating and innovative while providing a stable infrastructure and access to finance and expertise.” In the last years, EPFL has taken leadership in the European MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) landscape. “With this, Lausanne has become an important hub for education of the future, offering the perfect environment and opportunities to significantly expand educational technologies”, says Pierre Dillenbourg, Professor at EPFL.
For Kickstart Accelerator, the new EdTech Vertical means tapping into another exciting field of innovation. “The digital technologies will disrupt the traditional way of learning and will bring major changes to classrooms. Thanks to this sixth vertical in Lausanne, Kickstart Accelerator will be part of that development”, shares Patricia Schlenter, Program Manager at Kickstart Accelerator. Venturelab’s Director Jordi Montserrat is convinced that this trend will be growing further: “This development is fueled by multiple educational projects, cutting-edge research projects on learning technologies and promising digital education startups emerging in Switzerland and Europe. Bringing these actors together and helping them thrive by offering a collaborative space and building a strong support ecosystem, can significantly contribute to the development of the Swiss education and learning technology sector”.
If you are working on an education technology startup – it’s your time to shine. Apply for the EdTech vertical by July 10th, 2017 right here: www.kickstart-accelerator.com/edtech
We look forward to receiving your application!