Discovering new aspects of innovation in education in Paris

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Why is it so difficult to innovate in education? What are the obstacles and constraints that all innovators – from the inside or the periphery of the educative system – have to face? The visit of the Open Education Challenge to Paris enabled our startups to discover new aspects of innovation in education.
“Moving their Cheese” is the metaphor used by Edouard Husson former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Paris and former Dean of ESCP Europe Business School to describe the resistance to change and a growing paradox: everyone knows a model is coming to an end and the same are struggling to keep it alive.
Georges Haddad, former president of the University Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne and Head of Education Research and Foresight in the Education Sector at UNESCO, reminded us how privileged he was to receive an education. He described the challenges ahead of us in a very colorful way: love, desire, audacity. Through modern technology, all knowledge will be available to everyone, everywhere. But what will we do with it?  How acquisition of knowledge will be addressed and evaluated? Individualization of education will be a major outcome but what type of cooperative scheme will subsist?

Anne Vanet and Fethi Benslama from Université Paris Diderot raised also the issues of digital transformation at the university level. It is not – all – about IT but about mindsets, teachers’ attitude and students’ ability to adapt their expectations to new teaching practices.
In a later visit to Université Paris Dauphine, Henri Isaac – also chairing the scientific committee of the Association Renaissance Numérique – insisted on the need to create not only digital environments but also new physical learning spaces that will favor cooperative and creative work.
Digital transformation takes also place in the classroom and the French educative system is not immune to this transformation. Jean-Marc Merriaux from CANOPE presented its Viaeduc project that will enable teachers from all french schools to meet and share experiences and resources on a dedicated social network. Jointly with Alain Assouline, the Argonautes team and other partners from the editorial world, CANOPE is building a cooperative environment that could be a major facilitator of change. Jesse Himmelstein CTO at the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity, insisted on the importance of gaming to make innovation come true in the classroom.
Some of the main publishers from the Hachette Livre group shared with our startups their views on the market’s evolution and users’ expectation. Later during the week, Pascale Gélébart from the French association of textbook publishers “Savoir Livre” presented us the latest results of a survey realized with 15000 teachers that demonstrated on the one hand the increasing digital practices in the classroom and revealed on the other hand the resistances to change due to the lack of infrastructure and digital resources. One of the most interesting findings was that the more mature teachers were making more use of digital textbooks in the classroom. Raphael Taieb, founder of the Livre Scolaire, shared also his specific experience on the future of digital textbooks.
What happen in schools and universities also happen at the companies’ level and corporate training.  Jean-Pascal Szelerski from Idéal Connaissances addressed ‘New ways of corporate training’ where knowledge is no longer made available in a top down way but shared with trainees and curated by trainers. In other meetings with HR managers, additional inputs were brought to the discussion that showed clearly the growing expectations of companies to better adapt their training to their employees’ individual needs. Customized MOOCs for instance were mentioned as desirable solutions by Thierry Bonetto director of learning and development at Danone. Conversations with Pierre Dubuc from Open Classrooms were also the occasion to study more in depth the MOOC business model.
All innovation process, every “big idea” take us back to design thinking. The link with our work at Aalto University at the beginning of September was clear with Nicolas Vanbremeersch’s intervention. Nicolas, Founder and CEO of ‘Spintank’ agency asked a simple question: what makes your innovation so special? why will it capture my attention? Authenticity and understanding of users’ experience are key at all stages of the process.

Didier Rapaport, founder of Daily Motion and recently of Happn gave us a new masterclass on user acquisition and the latest trend on native advertising. The incredible success of Happn relies on a continuous investment in marketing and promotion through the social media, mostly Facebook, partnering with pages from “native Facebook users”. For Didier, users come first and an innovator must be everywhere his users are to be found. More importantly, there is no such thing as a “free ride”. Monetization has to be thought of from the very beginning even if revenues are not expected from the start.
Didier Rappaport OEC
What do investors think of our “big ideas”? What are they expecting? A workshop at Arjil Bank, with Noël Forgeard and Michaël Fribourg, gave all entrepreneurs a reminder of what an innovation needs to convince investors: a vision and a plan!
The Open Education Challenge relies on intensive mentoring, in small groups or tailor made to individual needs. The third day of our Paris session was dedicated to personalised meetings with the mentors. Each team had their own schedule of meetings to discuss their project with experts. We were lucky enough to have access to a number of excellent mentors with different areas of expertise, including:

  • William Florance, Head of Outreach and Emerging Markets at Google Education
  • Olivier Paulhan, Founder and partner of law firm Paulhan & Associés
  • Bernard Plaud, Former Primary School Director
  • Olivier Bréchard, Co-founder of the Institute of Action Research for Education
  • Alain Assouline, President and Founder of les Argonautes
  • Lyès Ghamissou, business advisor and educator at La Sorbonne Institute for Tourism
  • Sebastian Stride Founder of SIRIS Academy
  • Emmanuel Asmar, Founder and partner of law firm Asmar & Assayag
  • Jean-Marc Antoni, Senior finance executive
  • Sandrine Raffin, LinkUp Director and Founder
  • Christian Prevot, BAYCAP (Private equity) CEO and Founder

Our startups were challenged on all aspects of their ideas and business models from many different perspectives: concept, market, legal, finance... All interventions had at the end the same goal: strengthen the entrepreneurs’ convictions, help them to deconstruct and reconstruct their project and get prepared to understand better their users and convince investors.
William Florance from Google Education insists that the projects should be encouraged to follow their passions and serve the users they most care about. If they cannot maintain passion for their user, they will not weather the difficulties associated with all startups. 
The Blue Taste event in ESCP-Europe organized by Maëva Tordo and Nathan Grass gave a new “real” opportunity to meet users chosen randomly among 400 participants. The team had 8-minutes successive sessions to convince and listen. Are my product’s functionalities clear enough? Why so many buttons or so many clicks? What is so clear for me is not that clear for my users? Simple observations that can make a great difference!

On Thursday, all the teams met René Ricol, Founder and Chairman of Ricol Lasteyrie and its team of partners and guests

  • Jean-Michel Chami, Managing Partner of Ricol Lasteyrie
  • Olivier Pagezy, Deputy CEO of Ricol Lasteyrie
  • Laurent Bigorgne, head of  L’Institut Montaigne
  • Grégoire Sentihles CEO of Nextstage

The work was once again intensive and surprising for all startups. “It is not enough to tell me about your product or service. Tell me who you are, what did you do, what takes you here today.” René Ricol reminded the startups he was mentoring that at the end of the day entrepreneurship – even in education –is about people, their dreams, skills and passions.
Some of the advices are worth sharing:

  • start to work with one market
  • create a large enough users’ base to convince new adopters and establish a significant sample of users (200 schools for instance if your users are to be found in school)
  • make the difference between the teachers and the schools if the schools are to pay for the service
  • be prepared to go to scale quickly
  • get your idea well protected

Moving quickly is a must and all startups are facing during this 14 weeks process the need to launch, improve and finalize a comprehensive and complex innovation process.

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