We interviewed Sabina Sägi, EdTech Estonia project manager, to learn about her work, challenges, and some examples of successful organisations in her network. Sabina also offers some tips and advice for EdTech start-ups.
Please can you let us know about your work and EdTech Estonia?
EdTech Estonia is a non-profit umbrella organization to 46 education technology companies, a majority of these are startups. Our main aim is to assist new edtechs (like through our international hackathon) establish themselves in the market, as well as help existing companies thrive.
I work as a project manager which is one of these titles which says so much and nothing at all. I am the person behind the pop culturally irrelevant puns on our Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and podcast.
I am also the middle-woman between our members and government institutions (EdTech Estonia is a strategic partner of the Ministry of Education and Research of Estonia in policy creation and implementation). I get contacted by foreign delegations interested in Estonian unicorns and our suspiciously fabulous (but definitely warranted) PISA results. I help bring together the right edtechs with the right visitors to enable export activities and the sharing of best practices.
Who created EdTech Estonia and how has it evolved since its inception?
EdTech Estonia just turned 2 in December of 2022. However, we started as a collaborative initiative between Startup Estonia and the aforementioned Ministry in 2017. Obviously, there were many people involved in making sure that edtechs have a voice and a seat at the table when education decisions are made. Even today, our board consists of founders and investors of Estonian edtechs.
We try to continuously look at the current needs of our members in a changing environment. Whether it was making the most of the need for digital solutions at the start of the pandemic or offering the most useful workshops and networking opportunities to our members now that the sector is globally experiencing somewhat of a slowdown.
Two weeks after the war in Ukraine started, we had a landing page up-and-running consisting of 15 edtech solutions offered for free to learners affected by this situation. The opportunities are still available (ENG, UA).
What are your most significant challenges?
Most of our members have edtech solutions and services targeting toddlers, K12 or adults not formally in education but very few (we see you, DreamApply) target higher education specifically. This is also reflected in the Estonian edtech sector as a whole.
We do have a Co-creation programme with Tallinn University which offers newer edtech companies mentoring from researchers (among other testing and networking opportunities). However, I believe that a stronger connection between edtechs and the higher education sector is a must to continue developing cutting-edge yet relevant solutions for the new generation of learners and entrepreneurs.
Can you name any standout organisations within your network?
This is a bit like choosing your favorite child, isn’t it?
In the summer of 2022, 99Math (a math gaming platform) raised 2.1 Million USD to target the US market.
Alpa Kids (mobile learning game for ages 2-8) has reached 500 000 downloads in India after buying a one-way ticket with their team and family members and spending autumn-winter of 2022 over there, visiting kindergartens etc.
Triumf Health (a mobile game promoting mental wellbeing) won the award in the Health and Wellbeing category at the World Summit Awards in 2022.
These are just 3 of the Estonian solutions and services tackling serious issues of the here-and-now like a lack of teachers and support personnel, learners lacking the necessary skills in the job market or adults needing reskilling opportunities in a world developing at lightning speed. The diversity of edtechs in Estonia is awe inspiring and I am glad that I get to do my small part in helping them help others.
What three pieces of advice would you share with a start-up aiming to break the Estonian or European EdTech market?
1. If you want to tackle Estonia, expect open-mindedness to startups and tech but be ready to localize into Estonian immediately. Our language has 14 cases and we are not afraid to use them.
2. A smaller market is not necessarily an easier market to enter, don’t let fragmentation put you off.
3. You might encounter this attitude “if the education system isn’t broken, why try and fix it?!”. Unfortunately, even in a country where teachers have a lot of autonomy, education funding is still largely tied up in teachers wages and brick and mortar. No one is waiting for you to come and change the system, you have to be that wrecking ball at the door.