Successful EdTech must be fun and engaging but it can’t be a ‘gimmick’.

That was the view of a series of experts speaking at BusinessCloud’s EdTech Explained conference at UKFast Campus.

A total of 80 people heard from 10 disrupters in the sector, ranging from the BBC to tech start-ups.

Robin Williams is the head of digital at Twinkl, which was launched by co-founder Susie Seaton’s experiences working as an Early Years teacher when she couldn’t find the materials she needed for her lessons online.

In the last nine years Twinkl has grown to 500 staff; 4.6 million users; increased its online catalogue of resources and services to 625,000; and expanded into 196 countries.

On average it receives 1.5 million visits to its website per month and Williams said the secret was the EdTech solved a problem.

“We’ve hit on that gem for any business which is we solve a problem that a number of people face,” he said. “We’re not trying to replace teachers.”

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 Christine Bellamy, Robin Williams

Williams said a lot of Twinkl’s staff are former teachers so they’ve experienced the problems first-hand.

“We very much try and produce something  that has an educational need,” he added. “If it’s not meeting those other curriculum aims I don’t think it’s anything we would produce. Companies fail when they try and do stuff that’s not needed or it’s not relevant.

“If it’s a gimmick I don’t think it’s going to be long-term. You’ll struggle to make headway as an EdTech company if it’s gimmick-based. We try and bring everything down to our sweet spot, which is it has to be engaging and educationally focused.”

Former secondary school teacher Manisha Prabhakar is the education manager at Leeds-based Synap, which helps students revise.

“We’re an online learning platform that helps people learn more in less time,” she said. “EdTech should be fun but it shouldn’t be a gimmick. It has to enhance the learning experience.

“Students are wanting to use technology more and it will be interesting to see how schools and universities adapt to that.”

Michael Brennan is the founder and CEO, of tootoot, which was prompted by his experiences as a child when he was continuously bullied.

Panel Dan Price, Alex Alexandrescu, Jade Parkinson-Hill, Michael Brennan

He’s raised about £1m over three years with schools paying for a licence and giving pupils a password so they can report things like bullying. So far 500 schools have signed up with 270,000 young people registered and 60,000 disclosures made.

He told BusinessCloud: “For me EdTech is education plus technology. It should make a difference, whether that’s fun or the happiness of young people. It has to be simple and accessible.”

Dan Price is a co-founder of Liverpool-based Supplywell, which came out of his business partner Michael Herevin’s experiences as a supply teacher.

Supplywell’s technology matches supply teachers with schools but charges a lower fee than agencies and pays more money directly to the supply teacher.

They are already working with 10 schools in Liverpool and have 200 teachers signed up to the platform.

Price said: “There’s a crisis in teaching at the moment. Loads of teachers are leaving the profession. There are high levels of absences. As a result we need lots of supply teachers but the schools are over-paying for them. We’re trying to change it.”

Alex Alexandrescu is the co-founder of Manchester tech start-up Dicey Tech, which is on a mission to encourage more students into STEM careers through 3D printers.

He said: “We build 3D printers and show kids how to use them to design, code and print things like robots. We make technology learning, fun and engaging. We link it in with industry.

“EdTech has to be fun to be engaging. Dicey Tech make it fun for students to learn about technology. Then we connect them with companies who will need these skills.”

Daniel Hinkley is the co-founder of GoXchange Global, which is a new online network that supports university students who are studying or working abroad.

He previously worked as a teacher for 12 years and found students were often unprepared for the challenges they faced.

His first business CampusConnect targeted overseas students to reduce isolation among new students.

“We found that the number one fear that students had when they were moving abroad or even to a new city was the fear of isolation,” he said. “CampusConnect gives people the opportunity to build relationships, make friendships and connections months before that set foot on campus.

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Andy Kent, Manisha Prabhakar

“GoXchange is a mobile app platform for students to use who are going to spend a portion of their time studying overseas. It links then up and connects them by destination.

“It has to be interactive, it has to be engaging and people have to use it time and time again.”

Andy Kent is the chief executive of Liverpool-based Angel Solutions, which is a software company working in the education sector. The company employs 50 people and has a turnover of £3m.

He said: “We all want to make a difference but the challenge we’ve got in the sector is training and equipment. There’s so much potential but it’s going untapped for me. One of the biggest barriers is definitely training and one of the only way I can see that happening as a solution is to free up and liberate existing pockets of time in schools.”

The other speakers were Christine Bellamy, head of product at BBC Education; Chloe Barrett, founder and CEO, DigiDentistry, which has rebranded as Immersify Education; and Jade Parkinson-Hill, founder of Steam School in Liverpool.