George Burgess, founder of Gojimo and recipient of a $1 million capital injection from Index Ventures and JamJar Investments, relives his trade mission for GrowthBusiness.
On October 5th 2014, 19 British companies flew to Chicago for the first leg of the Great Tech Expedition, an annual trade mission to the USA, backed by UKTI and the Mayor of London.
With edtech representing a growing sector of the UK economy (the BIS estimates that annual UK education exports are worth £17.5 billion) the Education Foundation, a cross-sector education think tank, had been invited to select five British edtech start-ups to be included in the mission.
Gojimo, a mobile app for exam preparation, was one of the companies which took part, alongside CENTURY, Knodium, RefMe and ShowMyHomework. Like other edtech start-ups, we are starting to grow into the US market and were eager to visit in order to meet with existing and potential customers and partners.
Day one, in Chicago, offered companies an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the city, which is often overlooked by international businesses who prefer to set up on the East or West Coasts. The day ended with a drinks party hosted by the consul general, Stephen Bridges. Local entrepreneurs, investors, businesses and policy-makers were invited to hear the British companies introduce themselves whilst enjoying drinks in the consul general’s apartment (which has a jaw-dropping view, overlooking the city and Lake Michigan).
The next morning, the edtech contingent went to visit a new blended-learning school, operated by Intrinsic. We were joined by members of the Chicago edtech scene and together were given a tour of the new school which has been built from the ground up to create an impressive blended-learning environment. What set the school apart? Large classes with up to fifty students in a room, supported by three teachers working as a team. All students have their own Chromebook, and while some use personalised software to learn, others are taking notes as their teachers explain concepts using IdeaPaint on the walls.
In the afternoon, we joined the rest of the British delegation at 1871, Chicago’s world-renowned incubator. DeVry Education Group recently announced it would work with 1871 to run a specialised edtech incubator, and the start-ups had the opportunity to pitch Jeff Dunn who runs the programme. DeVry is an education powerhouse in the USA, with over 85 campuses across the country; this was therefore a great opportunity for some of us edtech companies to show off our products.
1871 seeks a certain type of entrepreneur
Wednesday, saw the delegation in Boston, with edtech start-ups visiting the LearnLaunch incubator and other companies visiting the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology. At LearnLaunch, we heard more about the thriving edtech scene emerging in Boston. The city is quickly becoming a major edtech hub, propelled by the combination of superior and innovative universities (Harvard and MIT) and the large number of major educational publishers who are headquartered, or have a large presence, in the city.
With most of the edtech companies wishing we could have spent more than 24 hours in Boston, it was straight onto New York to finish up the trip. JP Morgan’s innovation team hosted the entire delegation on the top floor of their offices. The team gave feedback on the companies’ three minute pitches, ahead of a more formal session in front of VCs which was to follow the next day.
Ian Froshew of RefMe pitching at JP Morgan in NYC
In the evening, McGraw-Hill Education hosted the edtech contingent at their offices above Madison Square Garden for drinks. CEO David Levin made an appearance alongside many of his senior executives, giving us access to some of the top minds in edtech. Also invited were a number of local start-ups taking part in Kaplan’s TechStars incubator and it was interesting to learn more about the thriving, and growing, New York tech scene. Us British start-ups left the evening well-networked, and with an eye on potential new partners, both big and small.
Friday came about far too quickly for some, with many companies having stayed up well into the early hours of the morning to refine their pitches. Fried Frank’s Dan Glazer, who has made it his mission to help British startups expand into the US market, outlined the UK’s investment opportunity to a room full of New York VCs and angels. He explained that the UK comprises 30 per cent of Europe’s total tech GDP and that while there’s plenty of seed money available, there’s little follow-on. Glazer then introduced each company one by one, inviting them up to present their three minute pitch and answer a few questions. These went exceptionally well with many founders scheduling follow up meetings with investors.
Naimish Gohil, pitching ShowMyHomework at FriedFrank offices in NYC
A lunch hosted by Blippar and overlooking central Park brought the trip to an end, with most founders using the afternoon to catch up on sleep or buy gifts for loved ones. All in all, the trip was a huge success, with 19 British start-ups flying back to London with an incredible US network, potential partners and investors. A special thanks to Sam Michel at Chinwag and Keith Moses at UKTI for organising everything.
All photo credits to Sam Michel, Chinwag.