Dating with a difference: Lessons from bringing together entrepreneurs and researchers in EdTech

Increasingly, researchers and entrepreneurs are recognising the potential of collaboration. In the world of EdTech, understanding what works, when, where, and how can turbocharge innovations for impact. Despite both sides recognising the value of coming together, entrepreneurs and researchers tend to inhabit different worlds and struggle to build the relationships and networks that are the first step in any collaboration. EdTech Hub and the education charity, ESSA, aim to bridge this gap by creating a space where entrepreneurs and researchers could connect, interact, and explore shared interests that could pave the way for potential collaborations. 

I think what you are doing in terms of getting social entrepreneurs and researchers connected is a great initiative with a tonne of potential.” 

Entrepreneur who attended the Matchmaking Event

We chose a ‘matchmaking’ format for the event to focus on building networks between attendees. As a warm-up before splitting into smaller groups, we reflected on the motivations and challenges in our work lives. Whether researchers or entrepreneurs, participants shared strong motivations for their work, driven by the injustice of unequal access to quality education and a desire to play a part in addressing that injustice. The challenges highlighted by entrepreneurs centred on the need to measure the success of what they do and use that to provide a compelling case for their products. The final warm-up question focused on what participants do on a day-to-day basis. This activity revealed the huge range of talent in the room, from people who spend their days curating content and fixing bugs to those designing and undertaking research to those who manage stakeholders and networking.

We clearly had the potential for collaboration in the virtual room, and so it was time to get to know each other better. Unlike dating apps, we did not ask participants for a long list of their hopes and dreams, nor the ideal height of their research partner. Rather, we let fate take its course and randomly assigned participants to break-out rooms, each with four participants: two entrepreneurs and two researchers. We did two rounds of these matchmaking sessions to increase the chances of finding a match.

To help structure the conversation and overcome those awkward pauses, we provided an optional template for those in the break-out rooms to follow. Each person created an ‘ask’, i.e., what they were looking for in a partner. Group members then responded if they felt they could match the ask, or knew someone who could. For the second round of matchmaking, we flipped the format and asked participants to start by setting out what they had to offer and seeing if that fit the needs of anyone in their group.

So, what was the outcome of this not-quite-speed-dating event? As we hoped, some participants found their perfect match and many found something interesting to follow up on. Potential connections ranged from very focused, specific, immediate needs, to longer-term strategic needs through to open questions on how researchers and entrepreneurs could collaborate. Here are a few of the asks and offers that came up in the matchmaking sessions:

Post-event, we shared a feedback survey to get a feel for what it was like to be in the sessions and any commitments made beyond the matchmaking event. Over 80% of participants who completed the feedback survey committed to following up with someone they met during the event — a better hit rate than your average dating app! The creation of a space for researchers and entrepreneurs to meet was clearly appreciated by all who attended, and the feedback called for more time to explore potential connections and expand the group to include other stakeholders, e.g., EdTech investors.

If you’re interested in joining a networking event to meet EdTech entrepreneurs, education researchers or others in the EdTech ecosystem, please sign up for alerts from EdTech Hub and ESSA to hear about future opportunities.

This matchmaking event marked the conclusion of three events organised as part of a collaboration between EdTech Hub and ESSA. These events were designed to enhance connections and collaborations between EdTech entrepreneurs and other stakeholders with education researchers, particularly researchers based in Africa. Our first webinar in April 2023 explored what it takes to build a high-impact collaboration between an entrepreneur and a researcher, while the second webinar explored strategies for decolonising EdTech research by leveraging existing research and data from Africa.

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