The European venture capital firm Brighteye Ventures was launched and began investing in ed-tech companies earlier this year. It recently closed a first fund at 50 million euros, meaning its not immediately accepting new applications. So what kinds of companies is the Luxembourg-based VC getting behind — and where does it see the school market heading?
Marketplace K-12’s Sean Cavanagh recently asked a pair of the key decision-makers at Brighteye Ventures –managing partner Alex Spiro and investment partner Benoit Wirz — about the kinds of providers and issues they’ve got their eyes on.
Brighteye Ventures invests in school, college, and adult-focused companies, most of them early-stage. Spiro and Wirz say they expect the bulk of their investments–about 80 percent of them–to focus on Europe and Israel, while about 20 percent will go to companies in the United States. About a third of its education investments in those markets will be focused on K-12.
Both Spiro and Wirz offered their thoughts via e-mail.
What’s been the biggest focus of the K-12 companies Brighteye is investing in–curriculum, PD, data analysis–or other areas?
Spiro: Ed tech is a very broad field, with innovation opportunities available not only in K-12 formal education, but also tertiary education, vocational training, corporate training and lifelong learning. Fundamentally, we believe that the successful societies of the future will see education as a lifelong process. Personalization, creativity and a sense of play are key components for unlocking the talents and skills of the population as a whole.
How are those forces shaping what you’re looking for in early-stage companies?
Spiro: Technology has huge potential to enrich the learning experience, and we are interested in any startup that enhances participation in the knowledge economy. We will be looking to invest in companies that have deep working knowledge of existing national and international educational standards and curricula, but these should not be limiting factors. What we seek are unique insights into the optimization of the learning experience itself, even if they are at odds with current practices.
While many ed-tech companies are effective in targeting students and consumers directly…products and solutions and product offerings will need to be to be compatible with the requirements of existing educators and administrators, as these are the people who are best positioned to assess and deploy those solutions.
What, in your view, distinguishes Brighteye’s focus from that of other VCs working in the K-12 space?
Spiro: Brighteye’s key strength is its geographic focus. While we’re keen to co-invest with our partners in the U.S., we are principally interested in leading early stage deals in Europe and Israel. This region has historically lagged behind on ed-tech innovation, and we’re determined to change this.
We are developing deep expertise in our local markets, and are aiming to contribute to the ed-tech ecosystem in Europe and Israel in a significant way. Our expertise in both European and U.S. ed-tech markets also makes us ideal for European/Israeli companies looking to expand into the U.S., or U.S. companies breaking into the European market.
What are the most important forces you see shaping international K-12 markets today, and how is that influencing the companies you want to invest in?
Wirz: We see Europe as a huge growth opportunity for ed-tech. The EU is a larger market than the U.S. in terms of student population, but has historically lagged behind in ed-tech due to market fragmentation. We’re seeing promising indicators that market conditions are changing for the better: While aggregate digital penetration still lags, many EU countries are early adopters of education technology.
Device penetration, internet access, and adult online learning rates in Scandinavia, Benelux and the U.K. are among the highest in the world, and there are plenty of private school networks across Europe that have a history of embracing digital and often have shorter sales cycles than public institutions.
These markets are demanding best-in-class software for teachers, administrators and parents and as a result we see European ed-tech expanding both in Europe and overseas (for example TES, or Kahoot!, and soon Lightneer) as well as some adoption of U.S.-born software.
What European markets in particular show the most potential?
Wirz: France and Germany, two of the largest economies in Europe which have lagged in digital adoption, recently announced initiatives totaling 6B euros to fund digital devices, internet access, and training in K-12 schools and universities.
This includes, for example, giving every middle school student in France a digital device by the end of this school year. We expect these initiatives to drive demand for both enterprise software (learning management systems, security/single sign on, etc) and digital content, driving increased opportunities for ed-tech startups across the continent.
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