Dynamic Business spoke with Vincent Quah, who is Regional Head for Education, Research, Healthcare and Not-for-Profit APAC Public Sector at AWS.
Vincent oversees a program called AWS EdStart, which is a global program designed to help education tech startups with building teaching and learning solutions on the AWS cloud.
In the interview, we also spoke with Greg Margossian who is currently in the AWS EdStart program with his start up Saasyan Assure, a cyber-welfare solution that works with existing firewalls and allows schools to detect, monitor and report unusual behaviour online. It protects students from Internet threats such as cyber-bullying, online predators and inappropriate content. The solution also promotes good digital citizenship among students by calculating each student’s web and cyber risk rating, and flagging those more likely to be targeted.
AWS EdStart has helped Greg to scale his business, and has also helped the end-users – the schools Greg is working with – by enabling the provision of inventive solutions.
Education tech is enabling teachers to do their jobs: to teach. Modern solutions, such as the one Saasyan Assure is currently providing, tackle modern problems and take some non-teaching related stress away from educational institutions to focus on the learning.
For any EdTech startup readers – information about the program, eligibility and how to apply – is also explained below.
DB: What is EdStart? Could you clarify what the program is all about for our readers?
Vincent:There are 3 tenets to the program.
- We help young, early startups within the education sector by providing an onboard platform to build skills and help them launch.
- We help nurture the focus of young staff on their solution for education, whether it be primary, secondary or tertiary, and help them to innovate to achieve an important student impact.
- We kick start startup’s development by providing a community network and collaborating business deals; we set up funding pitch days and hook them up to mentors.
The second pillar is about the technical assistance we provide, the solutions built on the AWS platform. We help them with knowing what services are the right ones to address the problem. Is it AI, machine learning, analytics? What are the right tools?
We will help them to find the right premise, with security and scaling growth considered in the design from the early stages as the business is destined to grow.
Thirdly, as the startups build and they are in their experimental phase, funding is low and there’s a lot on their shoulders. We help them by giving them vouchers which they can use at AWS. They then have more time for solutions and less time worrying about their personal pocket.
DB: How do you decide which startups to support at AWS? What makes applications successful?
Vincent:There is an internal scoring system which is based on their business plan. We look at how interesting it is and what the impact of their work will be. There are certain conditions they have to meet:
- The company must be less than 5 years old
- Their revenue must be less than $10million (USD)
- They must be innovative and address a real educational problem
We are looking for skill, agility, flexibility and security. That is the checklist to go global.
DB: What are the main problems startups struggle with when trying to develop tech products/services?
Vincent: There is usually not a shortage on the technical front. When they start working on solutions, there is a certain level of expertise on the programming side etc. The weakness usually lies in sales, marketing, public relations and this is where AWS has helped.
As solution architects, we can help them stop spending time with trying and failing, and make it so that they are simply just validating. Because the community has so much experience, it is streamlining the process as they can learn from others.
DB: What are the benefits of the program and the challenges you have overcome?
Greg: For me, it is the community that has been so beneficial. In the private school space there is little interaction and you can’t learn from other business’s APIs.
A challenge is that older companies aren’t necessarily seeing the benefits of the future…
They were here before the internet bubble but need to be more open minded. Younger people appreciate the them more and are more dynamic.
Our app looks after the wellbeing of students, but we have to rely on the data from other sources in order to do that. This comes from the school directory or from the student groups that they belong to, and we have to set up access to different individuals. We also have to get the timetable too so that we can flag every bullying activity at the period of time when it happened.
Getting all this data is hard. It is clunky school information and the data needs to come through some source of administrator and this takes time.
DB: How do you expect tech to change education, research and healthcare over the next 5 to 10 years?
Greg: I think overall schools are going to realise that the new generation is different. Their normal way of life is online. They wake up and they check if they are connected to the wifi, and they have a major break down if the wifi goes down! It’s difficult to change that behaviour but tech is a part of kids’ lives now.
Institutions will need to take responsibility to instill good values and teach kids to become good digital users. There will be detrimental effects in their future lives if they are using social media badly. Edtech will continue to enable schools to do this.
Vincent: There is so much innovation to bring to the education system. It’s challenging for schools to change; they have to be well managed and adhere to certain ways…managing data and monitoring social media.
They should be able to focus on the core mission of teaching kids, getting them future ready and building values. Technology is not a focus for teachers, and IT needs to provide that service for their peace of mind. Teachers should be focusing on raising good digital citizens in the future.
Tech is pervasive and the sky is the limit to what it can change in education.
DB: Lastly, how can start ups apply for the program? For any of our readers that think they would be a good candidate for AWS Edstart.
Vincent: The program is free and you can apply anytime on the AWS website. Apply to be a part of EdStart here.