A framework for the Edtech revolution in Asia

Photo by Malcolm Garret from Pexels

Photo by Malcolm Garret from Pexels

It has been a fascinating roadshow for the ASEAN-Australia Smart Cities Accelerator. Specifically, the number of insights that founders in the region are using to establish and scale their companies.

The Southeast Asian unicorns are now well and truly employing a significant portion of the talent pool within the region. 10 unicorns with a combined market value of $34 billion according to Bain & Company Analysis, 2018

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With such growth and upskilling over the coming years, we will see adept employees of these firms venturing out on their own to propagate future tech giants. Much like the multiples generated by the PayPal founding team diaspora.

The aforementioned is creating a shortage in the available domestic supply of skills which is being supplemented by remote workers and immigration without sufficient avail. This naturally creates opportunities for savvy minds to innovate on the delivery of recruitment, human resource management, and for this post, education.

Where are the attack-vectors we see in the delivery of education?

Each attack-vector is a process to be re-thought. 

Over time each industry accumulates historical assumptions around how and when they use technology, capital, land, and labor. These assumptions on how things were/are done become attack-vectors for entrepreneurs to build new businesses around.

The key attack-vectors we see continue to be in the three-goals that education delivers;

  1. Skills

  2. Community

  3. Signaling

Each of the goals is now viewed by savvy prospective students (consumers) through the lens of “ROI”. “When will this product payoff for me, my family and community”


The number one measure of an education provider has been if they can effectively train their students in relevant skills.

Can education providers of the future find new more effective ways to train and deliver relevant skills? Extending and evolving MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).

“If we study learning as a data science, we can reverse engineer the human brain and tailor learning techniques to maximize the chances of student success. This is the biggest revolution that could happen in education, turning it into a data-driven science, and not such a medieval set of rumors professors tend to carry on.” ~ Sebastian Thrun, Founder of Udacity
No longer is learning dependent on the physical classroom or tied to the cost constraints of an institution in hiring an affordable teacher relative to its class size and brand.


The value of most MBA programs has been the community of leaders that they expose us to. In recent years the alumni networks of accelerators have delivered on the community value that would have traditionally come from universities.

Similarly, we have seen the migration of the community function from the halls of ye ole alma mater to Github, Twitter, Reddit and other forums connecting current classes and alumni across borders.

I see a reality where new providers emerge within niche skill bases and underserved locations, that have not yet fully migrated online.

An example:

During Accelerating Asia recruitment this year one of the shortlisted startups was growing a community platform for construction workers in one of the regions manufacturing hubs. Uniquely these founders came from families that had been in manufacturing for a number of years as factory owners and factory workers.


This will be the last pillar to fall in our cultures. Due to the repetitive blasting of; 

The “good school” equates to proficiency fallacy. 

The “good school” fallacy served a purpose in a bygone era when it was difficult to test or measure a prospective candidate's ability to deliver. However, with an online portfolio, it’s become easier to attain a candidate-specific signal independent of the generalized signal of an institution.

We will see new platforms and more practical signal providers emerge in the coming years, dissolving the monopoly and brand of slow-moving educational institutions. The speed of this move will be dependent on how much pressure for talent is generated by companies outstripping the available talent pool. When these companies start looking for alternative sources of candidates.

Finally cost and competition

This is a market pressured to deliver proficient graduates and life long learners. In turn sustaining the growth of venture-backed unicorns, delivering value to an ever-growing middle-class in Asia. 

An exciting time, and a time in which we will see some education providers lose revenue faster than they can reform their cost base. Herein lies the opportunity for the savvy Edtech founder.

About The Author:

Nesh is an Entrepreneur in Residence for Accelerating Asia and the ASEAN-Australia Smart Cities Accelerator.

Why Smart Cities?

Two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050, according to the United Nations. This will put immense pressure on cities to provide everyday essentials like clean air, affordable and safe public transport, and reliable infrastructure. In fact, many cities are already struggling to provide their residents with these necessities. There is still a lot of work to be done, and we believe startups are uniquely positioned to tackle the challenges cities face today and in the future. 

OPINIONNesh Sooriyan