"The real heart of what we’re trying to do here is beyond data and analytics, it’s beyond dashboards for teachers – it’s actually empowering young people to take ownership of their learning and tell a story about how they're developing as individuals in ways that the ATAR score never can," says Edapt Education co-founder Chris Hoang.
At the age of 22, then management consultant Chris Hoang started questioning his life's purpose, asking himself where his passions lay and what would give him a sense of fulfilment.
The answers ultimately led him down an entrepreneurial path to a startup that is now encouraging kids to ask those same questions much earlier, with software that helps school administrators overcome mundane data entry tasks, alongside a deeper, more humanistic layer allowing students to define their own developmental priorities.
Melbourne-based Edapt Education's data platform is now in more than 70 schools across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland after its reach and revenue more than tripled last year following a $250,000 seed investment from Skalata Ventures. The company also recently secured a spot in accelerator Startmate's summer cohort.
The change in trajectory for Hoang started when he was volunteering with a group of Year 10 students, mentoring them as part of a UN Sustainable Development Goals initiative.
"I saw them on stage pitching the idea to the CEO of World Vision and a couple of other CEOs as well, and that's when I knew I wanted to be in education. I walked away from that day feeling like I’d discovered what I wanted to do for the rest of my life," Hoang tells Business News Australia.
Hoang then followed the opportunities as they came, taking up an invitation to spend time at a school where he could apply his consulting experience with strategic and operational thinking.
"I asked my employer for two days a week to do more of that consulting work because I was just enjoying myself," he says.
"I saw the way that teachers were trying to understand what was going on with their students by sifting through reams of data, and teachers didn’t join the profession to do data analysis; they didn’t join the profession to sit for hours and hours copying and pasting things out of one spreadsheet to another just so they could understand what was going on.
"I said 'I’ll take that spreadsheet from you, I’ll analyse that data and I’ll try to tell you what’s going on with your kids', and that was the seed of the idea that gave birth to Edapt."
As Hoang's data gathering and research progressed he was introduced to teachers from more schools who were "so welcoming", giving him further access and insights into the educational sector. At the time he was being mentored by data technologist Andrew Wong - a fellow Edapt co-founder and current passive shareholder - who guided Hoang on how to turn his ideas into a bona fide business.
"His advice was don’t quit your job, don’t quit your job, and then I quit my job," Hoang says.
"He took all of the data that I got and he created the very first version of our product. And then I took that back to schools and said, ‘hey, would you pay if we took this all the way?’"
With an early iteration of the product, the next step was to sell it. For Hoang that meant door knocking and sending cold emails, and it was through this process that he encountered Edapt's third co-founder, Eugene Roizman.
"Eugene happened to be one of the people that I cold emailed, and he was working at Box Hill High School. He had taken a sabbatical from school to develop his own version of the product that we were creating as well," Hoang explains.
"When I looked at his product and we spoke, we realised our visions were pretty aligned and so he joined the company as well as a co-founder."
The startup had its first couple of schools on board by the start of 2020 - a figure that rose to 23 by the end of that year. With the help of Monash University's accelerator program and the Skalata seed funding, the business was supercharged in 2021.
"We tripled the company – we went from $31,000 in annual recurring revenue at the beginning of the year to about close to $500,000 at the end of the year," the entrepreneur explains.
He estimates the software would save a teacher about a month's worth of full-time work in reduced administration, or the cost of specialists brought in by schools to carry out these tasks.
"That role sits at about $100,000 a year and their role is not just to do the analysis; they’re supposed to lead practice change using that data, but they’re not getting to do that because they’re focused on the crunching and creation of dashboards, which teachers struggle to understand even once they’ve been created," he says.
But it is the learner profile product that has been developed since that Hoang sees as a huge source of future business, and a game-changer for students who, on the whole, have been relatively disadvantaged compared to other generations during the pandemic.
"What COVID has shown us is that learning happens everywhere and anywhere, and it also exacerbated the inequity in education and the access that certain more well-off students had in terms of opportunity to the ones who didn’t," Hoang says.
"Then Year 12 students still have to go through the standardised systems, sit these exams that everyone sits, and then get a score which compares you to everyone else.
"That’s a really unfair expectation, especially to put on students who had to do schooling remotely and the ones who didn’t have access to that. How is success measured and how is that fair?"
Edapt Education's ethos is that students are "more than just one number", and their learning outcomes and assessments ought to weave in softer elements, known as "general capabilities" in the sector.
"These are things like critical and creative thinking, collaboration, working with other people, as well as wellbeing - how you’re developing socially and emotionally," Hoang says.
"What we try to do is not only bring together all of these different data sets that we can use to create a more well-rounded picture of what's going on for the person; we also give the individual, the student, access to their own profile and then ask them to enrich it with their own story.
"You could think of it as almost a LinkedIn for students in a way where they’re telling their own story, they’re bringing in their experiences, they’re building portfolios in all of those areas."
He says Edapt Education is the only Australian company in this space with learner profiles and the student empowerment piece, and getting involved with Startmate and its "prolific position" could not have come at a better time.
"We’re just at that inflection point in the business’ life right now where working with Startmate is going to significantly accelerate the business and get it to where it needs to go," Hoang explains.
"Part of the rationale to go to Startmate was that we’re seeing a change in the market at the moment in education in Australia – governments have started to talk about getting rid of the ATAR, and have started to talk about introducing learner profiles as a way that students can graduate from school and have something that represents them holistically.
"We're positioned at the cusp of that change because we have these learner profiles that students are using."
He concludes this marks a shift in thinking from a traditional model where a student is effectively a "widget" based on their score that determines "what university you go to and what box you sit in in the corporate world".
"The shape of all of the roles that need to be filled right now they’re so different. The problems that we need to solve are so different now," he says.
"Going through that rigid structured process, it doesn’t work anymore, and schools want to give young people the tools to break free from those rigid structures.
"We are seeing a theme right now and it’s called the Great Resignation, and so why are people resigning from work that they’ve opted into? It’s because they never asked at an earlier age, what gives me passion? What fulfills me? What do I want to do?"
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