13 Nov 2020

Spotlight on Invest Northern Ireland: Opportunities within the MEA EdTech market

Written by Emily Colyer, Content Producer, Bett
Spotlight on Invest Northern Ireland: Opportunities within the MEA EdTech market

Opportunities within the MEA EdTech Market for Northern Irish EdTech Providers

Invest Northern Ireland (INI) is the regional economic development agency of Northern Ireland and part of the Department of Economy. INI provides strong government support for businesses by effectively delivering the Government’s economic development strategies in Northern Ireland and abroad. Within the MEA region, InvestNI has presence in Dubai, Jeddah, Doha and Johannesburg.

Fahd commenced the roundtable by highlighting the key drivers of growth in MEA for the NI EdTech providers to consider:

  • Favourable regulatory environments: Governments across the Middle East are prioritizing both public and private investments in education and technology in a bid to diversify economies that have typically been resource-dependent.
  • Thriving local and expat populations: The Middle East is among the youngest regions in the world, with the highest population growth rates globally. Expat populations are also on the rise; Dubai projects that its expat population will double by 2030.
  • Willingness and ability to pay for international education: A sustained increase in household incomes in the region in the last decade has led to an increased demand for high-quality, international K-12 education. As a result, the UAE has the world’s largest number of English-medium K-12 international school students.
  • Edtech - from perk to necessity: Edtech will be at the forefront of the Middle East’s Education sector in a post-COVID world as the governments focus on rethinking classrooms and utilising cutting edge technology to transform the learning & teaching environments. For instance, the UAE Ministry of Education is expected to expand its spend on e-learning initiatives by 60% to a worth of US$7.1 billion in 2023. Furthermore, the internet penetration rate is at 92% in the six GCC countries – considerably higher than the global average (54.5%).

Practical advice for building the provider-school relationship in MEA

Conall MacLoingsigh, an educator originally from Northern Ireland who is currently teaching in Dubai, provided on-the-ground insight into the ways in which NI EdTech providers can form effective, lasting relationships with educators and institutions in MEA:

“What cannot be underestimated is the clout and respect held by our islands in the Middle East. Countless teachers, engineers and health sector workers and others have ensured that we are woven into the fabric of the region’s modern story.”

Conall highlighted 7 steps for providers to consider when entering the Gulf EdTech market:

  1. The first step is to get your name out there. There are many ways to do it; social media helps while attending events like Bett can certainly help getting your name out there into the region. During the roundtable I shared two experiences of companies making purchases – one business introduced from the ground up following an introduction from a single teacher on the academic side, and one that was sparked over a single discussion at Bett itself following a discussion with a board member at the school’s parent company. The same solutions providers are still used by the school companies years later.
  2. Private schools make up the majority of schools run in the UAE and wider Gulf region. They have autonomy over where they want to spend their hard-earned money. This presents wonderful opportunities for companies looking for an inroad to the market.
  3. Now you are in, how do you expand your reach? You have three sets of ambassadors at your disposal: teachers, children, and parents. Create an ambassador’s programme or make them feel a little special with personal development and support then you have an effective, inexpensive, and motivated marketing tool! It’s a win-win; it helps get your name out there and can raise the profile of budding teachers within a school or region. In other words, we love to show off our shiny new ideas.
  4. Know your market. Schools vary wildly in the region. Some schools are seeking consistency across a wide portfolio of schools. This is particularly true in Arabic-medium subjects. Other schools, in particular premium fee-paying schools, are looking for that something special that can give them a win with parents and, of course, a leg up over the ever-increasing competition. 
  5. Accept that education is not a conquest. We teachers have been trying for hundreds if not thousands of years and have not come close.  Choose your niche and grow it effectively from there. Case in point; each year we plan things to a tee only to change it up entirely for the next cohort, no matter how outstanding it was, as there are different needs in each year group.
  6. Instil a continuous evolution in your approach to your products. Be prepared to be both proactive and reactive. Teachers are naturally invested in the products they use and will be very supportive (it may resemble a moan at times, but I promise we are just passionate) in suggesting improvements. If you can, get into a classroom and see how your product is being used in real time. Even better, ask the teachers and students.
  7. Make your product mobile and tablet-friendly. The computer suite is on the way out (in my opinion) and many schools are headed for one-to-one devices, if they have not already done so. If you are reading this in the future, replace tablet with the latest brain chip developed by the Tesla guy.

Investing in Northern Irish EdTech Providers: The Northern Ireland EdTech Collaborative Network

With Belfast recently ranking as one of Europe’s top ten Tech Cities of the Future, technology is deeply engrained in the Northern Ireland education system.

The Northern Ireland EdTech Collaborative Network (NI EdTech) brings together founders of education innovation companies and evangelists from all over Northern Ireland who can offer advice, products and services dedicated to:

  • Creating / Providing Learning Content
  • Raising Attainment / Removing Barriers
  • Enabling Parental Engagement
  • Providing Interactive Platform

More information on solutions providers in the Northern Ireland Edtech sector can be viewed here: https://www.niedtech.org/

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