A new trend in education technology (edtech) has emerged with a surge of women-led companies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These women-led edtech startups are innovating and leveraging technology’s power to revolutionise the education landscape and bridge knowledge gaps throughout the region.
The COVID-19 crisis helped spur the growth of edtech startups in Southeast Asia, with companies adapting their offerings to accommodate increased remote learning demands. However, since the pandemic abated, some have had to pivot again to stay relevant. They are offering extra tutorials to co-exist with in-school learning or other services that help students progress through their education.
The top 5 unique edtech startups making a difference in Southeast Asia
Despite the global economy’s slowdown, some of the top edtech startups in the region are still making significant strides. Here are examples of trailblazing women-led companies making an impact in 2023:
Doyobi is a Singapore-based edtech startup that provides educational resources for teachers. Co-founded in 2020 by John Tan, Penny Gupta and Shawn Leong, Doyobi offers science and coding courses for children and empowers educators to teach these subjects in a fun and interactive way. Doyobi’s mission is to nurture the next generation of change-makers by teaching them essential STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) skills through engaging lessons.
With Ms Gupta as Chief Operating Officer (COO) since 2020, the company has expanded and received funding of USD 3.8 million to date. This includes the closure of a Pre-Series A funding round, raising US$2.8 million with participation from Monk’s Hill Ventures, Tresmonos Capital, Novus Paradigm Capital, and XA Network in October 2021.
Based in the Philippines, FrontLearners—originally Uberlessons Co. Ltd.—is the brainchild of the husband and wife team of Leo and Elaine De Velez. The company offers interactive eLearning content development and customised, out-of-the-box, and end-to-end eLearning solutions for schools.
With Elaine De Velez steering the ship as CEO, Frontlearners was among the ten Ideaspace Foundation Startup Competition winners. This win has contributed to their continued growth and success. The company focuses on providing interactive learning solutions with no classroom limits and has raised over USD 11 million since its inception in 2014.
ErudiFi is a technology company focused on providing education financing solutions. While its headquarters is in Singapore, its offerings in Indonesia (Danacita) and the Philippines (Bukas) aim to democratise access to higher education. It does this by offering affordable loans to students pursuing various degree programmes and non-degree short courses.
Co-founded by an Indonesian woman, Susli Lie, and a Singaporean man, Naga Tan, the startup has Mr Tan at the helm with his right-hand woman, Isabella Yonathan, as COO. Ms Lie is now working full-time at prominent VC Monk’s Hill Ventures.
ErudiFi has successfully secured funding to support its mission, raising USD 15 million in debt financing from Helicap in January 2022. This investment will help it provide more education financing options for students in Southeast Asia. In the previous year, it raised USD 5 million from backers Monk’s Hill Ventures and Qualgro VC.
A Malaysian-based edtech startup, GuruLab, aims to help students improve their grades through data-driven education. It pairs highly qualified tutors with cutting-edge learning analytics to provide effective and engaging English learning experiences. The platform also offers personalised tutoring and test preparation services.
Its female co-founders, Vicky Tan and Kai Song Eer, studied at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, respectively. They spotted a need in the Malaysian market to “address the shortcomings of the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach used by schools and tuition centres.”
In January 2022, GuruLab raised USD 1 million to support its mission. Its investors, Wright Partners, see the company’s potential, while Malaysian telecom giant Maxis collaborated to provide a writing workshop known as eKelas English HIP Storyfest. This move into edtech is a big step for Maxis and shows they are confident about working with GuruLab.
These companies listed above are just a few examples of the remarkable women-led edtech startups transforming education in the region. Despite the challenges of entrepreneurship, these high-level performers continue to drive innovation, empower learners, and positively impact society.
Being a woman in charge of one of the top edtech startups is still unusual in Southeast AsiaThey face many barriers and more complex challenges than their male counterparts. For example, despite the already low funding levels for all female-led tech companies, they still fell by 32% in 2022.
Having women in positions of power in these edtech startups in Southeast Asia is a step in the right direction for gender equality in the region. There is still a long way to go. Nevertheless, leaders like Penny Gupta, Elaine De Velez, Susli Lie, Isabella Yonathan, Vicky Tan and Kai Song Eer are breaking the glass ceiling and showing that women-led startups can succeed despite the business challenges they face.