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Startups innovate for education

On 21 June universities and startups came together at incubator UtrechtInc. The goal of the afternoon: create transparency between the approach of decision-makers and the startups’ innovative concepts for education. UtrechtInc Director Jorg Kop: “These groups are playing to each other’s strengths. Both ‘big’ and ‘small’ are building future-proof education, and they’re doing it together. Startups have the innovative capacity, the agility and adaptability. Universities and schools have the access to the market of end-users.”


Changes due to digital innovation are happening fast, and just as other industries are changed by all things digital, secondary and professional education simply can’t avoid them either. Startups play a unique role in working with universities to create common ground and envisioning solutions and co-creating the future of education. In an informal setting, the collaborators shared needs, solutions and experiences with each other. Conversation leaders Jorg Kop and Leon van de Zande, the Director of Teaching & Research at Utrecht University, used their experiences in the field to start the dialogue. Additionally Erik Stam, professor of Entrepreneurship at Utrecht University, contributed his vision for the recipe to success when startups and industry giants work together.

Doing business

Jeroen Visser, Programme Manager at the The Hague University of Applied Sciences, is enthusiastic about how the meeting was set up: “Dynamic, with a lot of room to interact. Next to that, the pitches were a very efficient way for me to see a lot of startups, and after that get right down to business. I have already contacted two startups for a follow-up meeting.” Other guests for the afternoon included Sanoma Learning, the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, Wageningen UR, VSNU and TU Delft.

Curious which 11 startups were there? Read on.

Round tables

After the startup pitches, the whole group was divided into six tables at which to continue the discussion in practical terms, and to find the implications of the answers to questions such as: ‘What do we have to offer to each other? How can we define each other’s needs? How can we come to a mutual agreement? What can we do better? How do you scale up after a successful pilot?”  

The round table discussions were built up in three phases: exploration, implementation and success. Below a few of the conclusions condensed from what was talked about:

Startups are built for innovation and have the right mentality. This is where you can find the future.

Career Services and Programme managers are often the first points of contact to collaborate with educational institutions.

If you’re looking for launching customers for your startup, build a personal network. First look at your own network. You should also be part of an incubator, like UtrechtInc. These places and people can introduce you to valuable contacts and you can learn a lot from peers.

Make sure your solution clearly meets the needs of universities and corporations. Only then will your startup stand out amongst others! Next, make sure you’ve got good references. Trust that they’ll seek to find out what working with you was like for them.

Universities in general can have the feeling: ‘startups are commercial and just want to use me to make money’. Providing transparency and bringing a mutual business case to the table helps to minimize this feeling.

Always begin from the end user as the starting point for an innovation. Consider the user experience. Do a pilot with the innovators and early adopters. After that, the adoption for the ‘rest’ often comes more quickly.

Universities and schools and looking for a partner to innovate and implement, not a quick and easy supplier.

Professors don’t want to work with software that has bugs. Institutes are afraid of losing their good reputation...For a successful and stable roll-out of the innovation inside of the organisation, the scale-up after the pilot can best be divided into phases. Focus first on small groups.

Build a point of contact for customer care and keep personal contact with the contractor, professors, and dedicated IT people.

The 11 startups (*UtrechtInc startup)

Using a variety of games to structurally and continuously improve the connection between education and the work field. An expert in the field of gamified assessments.

All information for students in 1 app. Secure, mobile and innovative.

Developing Academy Attendance, an application that collects, analyses and presents real time data (including attendance information) for educational institutes.

Online, game-based e-learning environment where students and professionals can train their conversational skills. They practice with virtual characters in a safe and flexible environment at school, at home, or during class. Any time, any place.

App for students to train communication skills via role-playing and video. The recordings provide an opportunity for self-reflection and can be shared for feedback and testing.

Helps teachers to improve the quality and quantity of feedback on their students’ writing assignments.

Statistics accessible and understandable for everyone. The online program teaches statistics to students, and teachers can make use of a digital student-assistant.

Online platform making it possible for teachers to implement new didactic models, such as blended learning, flipping the classroom and online peer-to-peer learning.


Helps students to stay focused when they’re distracted by the internet and social media.

Brings education, talent and industry together in one place in one click. Match, share and collaborate.

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About UtrechtInc

Business incubator UtrechtInc accelerates the growth of early stage (IT) startups during their first years of existence. We have created an ecosystem for startups to build innovative products, develop teams, attract funding and grow a successful business. Since 2009 we have supported and guided over 200 startups in Utrecht.