Over the last few years, we’ve seen the growth of edtech across the world explode due to the lockdowns and more. In Southeast Asia, there have been challenges, but also a very strong response from the startup community to provide good alternatives to ensure continuous education for everyone.

This has led to a larger number of edtech startups entering the scene, as well as those who are building up the infrastructure of the entire ecosystem. One such major ecosystem player is the EduSpaze accelerator, which is the largest edtech accelerator in Southeast Asia. They recently launched their fifth cohort and are at the forefront of edtech innovation in the region.

Why Southeast Asia is attractive to foreign edtech startups

To get some insight into the landscape at this moment, we spoke to two entrepreneurs, who are part of the latest cohort.

Both Mark Stanley from Scribo and Carmina Bayombong from InvestEd are leading the new generation of edtech startups in the region. Mark serves as Managing Director at Scribo, which is an AI-powered edtech scaling deep artificial intelligence to help every student grow their English writing skills quickly and easily. The technology offers students precision feedback and guidance on how to improve their writing. Starting at the level they are writing, Scribo shows students what to do next. Auto-scoring and instant feedback reduces teacher workload and greatly improves student engagement.

For InvestEd, Carmina is the CEO and Co-Founder, which is a pioneer in the student loan space, providing a platform for unbanked GenZs. InvestEd has been awarded by the Philippine government as the leading student loan provider in the country, and has provided over USD1.5 million of education loans to thousands of youth across 585 schools, helping increase their income by 2.3x. To date, it has raised more than $3M of funding from investors, lenders, and donors.

Find out what they had to share.

What do you expect to gain out of your time with the EduSpaze accelerator?

Carmina (C): We’re very excited to be part of Eduspaze given their track record of helping innovative EdTech companies scale their reach across the region. So far, the program has given us access to top-notch workshops related to improving not just our Edtech solutions but also elevating our leadership as founders. Eduspaze also connected us to valuable mentors that helped us refine, stress test, and roll out the next stages of our growth. Although it’s still slotted out for September, the sessions that will expose us to other Southeast Asian markets are also something that will be highly valuable to us.

Mark (M): The accelerator brings together a powerful blend of experience and skills focused on opening opportunities and removing barriers.

Navigating the nuances of marketing, partnerships and Edu Ministries in Southeast Asian countries is a huge challenge without a roadmap, strategy and experience. Eduspaze brings forward the resources needed to build a viable roadmap backed by a network of experience. They align similar stages and compatible companies to avoid pitfalls, save time, raise money and set up for success.

Could you share more about the problem you’re solving?

M: There are over 2 billion English language learners in the world at any time, most without any structured support and guidance. Scribo is a SAAS English Writing assessment and improvement platform used by students from K-12 to University level who need stronger English writing capabilities to extend their education and vocational opportunities. With over 60 million English teachers needed by 2030, Scribo works across B2B, B2C and B2B2C engagements to reduce the impact of ‘no teachers’.

Our mission is to reach all students needing guidance and feedback to improve their English. Scribo AI is now available across all four key English skills; Speaking, Reading, Listening and Writing, and able to scale and deliver the quality of a human-rated personal tutor to any student at any level of learning, in seconds.

C: InvestEd’s goal is to bring financial inclusion to millions of Southeast Asian Youth by 2030. We are starting with 18.5M youth in the Philippines ($10B market) who do not have access to affordable credit for their developmental needs, such as college tuition and post-graduation upskilling. These are needs that, if not met, can lead to a life of little progression.

A globally awarded impact business, InvestEd pioneered consumer loans designed specifically for low-income young adults. Its credit product has:

(1) Near-universal accessibility (Algorithm that doesn’t require min. Income & collateral);
(2) Unmatched affordability (lowest monthly payments & longest tenor in the market);
(3) Transformative EdTech driven credit experience that guides students on how to pay their loans successfully (High repayment rates throughout the pandemic & recession).

What are the current hurdles you are facing to help scale your business?

C: InvestEd is a pioneering enterprise in the verticals of education and finance. As they say in startup lingo- innovation work is VUCA (i.e. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous). One of the biggest hurdles we face is doing VUCA work in VUCA sectors (i.e. Education & Finance sectors are both rapidly changing). This brings about a core challenge which is how to balance risk management and growth. Growing our reach rapidly is something that can be done easily but managing student loan risk when growth is too fast can be very difficult.

At the same time, too much risk aversion can mean you are ignoring a great opportunity to capture the majority of the market share. In this regard, we require not just capital but access to the most brilliant minds that can help us crack the best business strategy for this.

M: For any B2B and B2C business in Edutech, having clarity in the product promise, value and marketing message is paramount. Across multiple countries and markets, English may seem like a common framework however the challenges and opportunities around pricing, distribution and adoption of online tuition vary greatly. Navigating marketing and messaging across multiple markets is a challenge that needs patience, experience and consistency.

How has the edtech industry evolved since the pandemic?

M: An interesting ‘new normal’  and level of online awareness is percolating across all educational levels in many countries. Many governments are now very focused on English learning at scale as a mandated base for all students. Parents, teachers and students realise that premium edutech powered campuses offer more personalised support and tuition flexibility, in less time and money, with higher quality than traditional infrastructure. As countries and learning institutions grapple with teacher shortages and incremental costs,  blended delivery modalities will drive time and cost efficiency. Technology will deliver and personalise student engagements at scale, reserving human cognition for the final mile of premium delivery.   

C: Since we operate in the Philippines, I can truly say that EdTech has finally come into the spotlight. Due to the pandemic, the many legacy learning models and inequity in education have finally been exacerbated and given attention. So far, this has made our EdTech community more vibrant, and entrepreneurs with EdTech solutions are now able to really put their ideas to the test. Moreover, bureaucratic institutions are now willing to try new technology that can improve learning outcomes and education access- something that was very difficult before the pandemic.

What’s next for your startup?

C: To date, InvestEd has the country’s largest and fastest growing loan portfolio of Bottom of the Pyramid students. By 2024, we plan to pilot international expansion as part of our goal to be the first lender of 1.8 billion youth in the developing world—an advantage many potential acquirers would find valuable and an opportunity large enough for an IPO. But more importantly, a goal that can change the game for the youth, their families and economies.

M: We are now releasing B2B, B2C, and B2B2C products and service opportunities right across South East Asia. From our current base of over 2000 schools and over 400,000 users, we are out to leverage the efficacy we have proven. To do this, smart marketing and communications strategies are needed. Lifting awareness, adoption and momentum across all Southeast Asian education markets is our priority. ScriboCampus.com is opening Sept 1, giving all Singapore Primary, Sec1 and Sec2  students English writing and comprehension support for the upcoming PSLE and O/A level exams.