Thursday, November 12, 2020

Hong Kong's Progressing Role in the Greater China Edtech Market

Hong Kong is well placed as an education technology nexus in the region’s Greater Bay Area, as edtech accelerates digital learning worldwide, according to several experts who spoke at the recent Edventures GBA Summit, November 4, spearheaded by Esperanza founder John Tsang (photo), a former financial secretary of the HKSAR.   

 The sector is ripe for disruption after a slow start in this digital century. Edtech spending of $200 billion has lagged in the $6 trillion education market.

We are in a very interesting inflection point in the evolution of our species that will have a profound impact on education and the future of the world,” said Kamran Elahian, Chairman and Founder of Global Innovation Catalyst, a successful serial entrepreneur, a cross-border venture capitalist who is known as i-Ghandi for his work in bridging the digital divide for children around the world. He pointed out that innovation economy is all about algorithmic content, emphasizing that traditional knowledge bases have lost value and that the role of teachers should change from teaching to being a mentor and a coach. 

Teachers are learning how to use technology effectively to personalize lessons and empower students to design their learning, pointed out Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and a former Obama education official. Elliott Masie, chairman of the Learning Consortium, who is widely credited with the term 'e-learning,' highlighted the importance of designing experiential learning for the workforce so that learning becomes more creative and collaborative. 

Edtech is fast progressing now as a game changer with AI, robotics, data analytics and mobile technologies applied to learning. “There is a common perception that edtech is used primarily to nurture digital literacy. “Literacy, 21st century skills and numeracy are the top three skills that edtech innovations can address,” said  Esperanza founder Tsang, citing a Brookings Institution study. 

In China, the education market has grown to as much as 6-7% of the country’s GDP and it’s poised to become the world’s biggest and the fastest growing edtech market as venture capital and talent flows in.  A threefold increase in China’s digitization index has occurred in the past five years, according to the Tencent Research Institute.

Out of 14 edtech unicorns globally (privately held venture-backed companies worth at least $1 billion), eight are from China, according to market intelligence firm HolonIQ.  Yuanfudao recently nabbed an after-deal valuation of $13 billion to become the most valuable edtech unicorn worldwide.

As part of the Edventures summit and a related fellowship, 10 growth stage edtech finalists pitched to a panel of judges, with four awardees: CoderZ Technology is Israel, Cybint in Israel/US, MEL Science in the UK, and Mandarin Matrix in Hong Kong. A virtual expo is showcasing their work until November 22, at  The fellows will get support in connecting with local localization partners, investors, markeet entry advisors and adopters of their solutions. 

Silicon Dragon founder/editor Rebeca Fannin moderated a panel on China market opportunities with Dr. Simon Leung (Vice Chairman, NetDragon), Dr. Steven Li (Vice Dean, Tencent Research Institute) and Julian Fisher (Vice Chairman, British Chamber of Commerce, Beijing).  Dr. Li commented that many education innovations take place outside the school systems with fewer government regulations. The key market opportunities include pre-school, teacher training, homework and mental health. “A broader trend is research-backed edtech because parents and governments want results. They want to know that (the offering) is actually based on research and not just sales driven or marketing driven,” he said.

Dr. Leung added that one of the few areas that is encouraged for foreign players is vocational education. He also pointed out that parents are increasingly interested in their children developing soft skills.

Pointing to an advantage held by Hong Kong in the edtech market, Tencent’s Dr. Li noted that while good quality content is in short supply in China, Hong Kong has a lot of good content to offer because of its concentration of good schools and universities. With their internationally acclaimed research capability, Hong Kong universities could also play the very important role of supporting, evaluating and validating edtech solutions, he said.   

A separate panel facilitated by Jumpstart Media CEO Relena Sei brought in Elahian plus two investors Bill Ning, founding partner of Blue Elephant Capital and Matt Greenfield, managing partner of Rethink Education. Ning said that good education companies are labor intensive businesses, where growth would be slower than a typical tech investment. Greenfield added that while the return could take long to realize, the loss ratio is lower. The successful startups are often those with a social mission working on a peripheral innovation to solve a problem that no one is working on, he remarked.

For startups interested in entering the China market, these tips were offered by the expert speakers:

·   Be realistic about the market, the price points, the competition, what value can be added, the government regulations and the resources required

·        Segment the market and look for the right partners to work with and localize the offering

·        Place senior members of the team locally 

In summary, Esperanza founder and former HKSAR financial secretary John Tsang said that successful edtech applications demand a fundamental change in the mindset of educators, parents and the community at large. It requires effective collaborations among a complex and interconnected web of players outside the classroom, from policy-makers, education technology providers, NGOs to funders and the business community. “Let’s join forces to reimagine the future for our children,” he concluded.