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On a mission to London, the European edtech hotspot: bigger risks, bigger opportunities

London is the European hotspot for education technology. During our edtech mission, set up by imec.istart and Agoria in the context of the Scaleup Vlaanderen program, we took our startups to the UK. They visited technological pioneers, they connected to the relevant players in the London ecosystem and they were inspired to think even bigger.  

The Edtech Mission was postponed due to COVID-19. With a two-year delay the trip was finally able to continue at the end of March 2022. Eleven startups joined the mission to London, including 6 imec.istart startups: Comproved, Bookwidgets, Linguineo, Noteble, Play it and Smart Symbols.


Londen, the mecca of edtech

Tim Rootsaert, venture acceleration manager Edtech at imec.istart: “London is one of the strongest edtech hubs in the world. The city is world class for education technology, it’s pioneering in new learning tools and technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality. London hosts an impressive ecosystem of startups and scaleups, universities and research institutions, investors,… The UK attracts over 40% of all edtech investments in Europe.” 


“We built our mission around the BETT Conference. It’s the world’s number one event in Edtech. BETT offers a unique opportunity to showcase your start-up to the rest of the world, but a stand at the conference is simply unaffordable for a Belgian startup. Thanks to Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT) our startups could join forces and present themselves together to an international crowd of edtech stakeholders.” 

“Our objective as a startup was mainly to explore the UK education market and identify the necessary connections to position our product in the UK as well. The meetings and workshops during the Edtech Mission helped us a lot, the pitch & network event at the Belgian embassy was the icing on the cake. Closing the week with my own booth at BETT, the largest Edtech fair in the world, was a unique opportunity that I could only dream of 5 years ago.”  David Minne, founder Smart Symbols  

Inspiration, networking and community building 

The EdTech Mission had a triple purpose, explains Tim. “London is the perfect place for edtech startups to find inspiration for new products, new business models, new markets. That brings us straight to the second goal of the mission: we didn’t just go to the UK to get inspired; the startups were also on the look-out for potential partnerships, for leads and prospects in London. The UK is not only the biggest European market for edtech, it’s also the main springboard to other international markets. If you have your eyes set on the US, success in the UK gives your startup a competitive edge.” 
The third goal of the Edtech Mission was community building, adds Emmeline Byl, access to talent & international mission officer at imec.istart: “The startups often share the same office, they meet each other in workshops and meetings. But being on the road together in a different city creates a different vibe. The founders told us that the most valuable moments often were the ones outside the ‘official’ learning and network moments. The schemes for world domination were forged at the breakfast table early in the morning or the pub late in the evening.” 


Bigger risks, bigger opportunities

The startups founders also visited Perlego and imec.istart alumnus Datacamp, edtech scaleups founded by Belgian entrepreneurs who live and work in London right now. “It’s interesting to hear their stories firsthand”, says Tim. “They had a very positive view on the Belgian ecosystem for tech startups, but they also pointed out that you can grow your startup much faster in London. The scale is incomparable. Everything is so much bigger: the market, the funding, but also the competition and the pressure. It goes both ways: the risks are much bigger, but the opportunities are also much bigger.” 
“At imec.istart we always tell founders that if they want to expand to a new market, they need to be prepared to go live there for at least a couple of months. It’s the only way to really get to know the culture, build a network, hire the right people, create a winning team and a winning culture. That’s why the Edtech Mission offered the startups hands-on advice. ‘Do you want to move your startup to London? Ok, these are the main obstacles, and this is how you move them out of your way.’” 
“We left for London with 3 objectives: exploring the UK market, closing new partnerships and approaching investors. We returned to Belgium with a pretty good picture of the ecosystem in London, we signed a few international partnerships and several UK investors show interest in Play it. Mission accomplished!”  Brecht Kets, founder Play it - 

All fired up

The Edtech Mission to London was the first ‘real’ mission after two years of virtual missions. Emmeline: “It was a huge relief. We made the best of the virtual missions, there was no alternative, but this mission had a totally different dynamic. Nothing beats a genuine, real-life conversation. The mission was intense. We could really feel the adrenaline. Everyone came home dead beat, but all fired up to take their startup to the next level.”