When BT teamed up with TechHub to create the BT Infinity Labs Awards, they were seeking companies that showcased digital innovation in the public sector; small companies that were making a big difference to public services, through imaginative digital products and services.
Educater, a runner-up in the BT Infinity Labs competition, is just such a company. The company was awarded a place on the BT Better Futures programme and through that, heard about the BT Infinity Awards, for 'ideas that could change lives' in the public sector.
The Educater system, which is due to be showcased at BT’s Adastral Park, has been designed to reduce the administrative burden on staff within schools, streamline processes and help drive more effective responses in areas such as Special Educational Needs (SEN).
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The system was designed in close consultation with schools. Its modular approach means that headteachers can select exactly what they need for their school, whether that’s sending out correspondence, inputting and analyzing results, recording attendance or storing and accessing pupil information in a ‘Pupil Passport’.
James Sutherland is one of the three co-founders and directors of start-up The Publishing Foundry. We talk to him about the BT Infinity Labs competition, how he sees the future of the public sector and advice around working with government.
What is Educater?
“Educater is a system specifically designed for the education market, aimed at reducing the administrative burden on staff within schools, streamline processes and help drive more effective responses in areas such as Special Educational Needs (SEN).
“The system was developed in close consultation with schools. Its modular approach means that customers can select exactly what they need for their institution, whether that’s sending out correspondence, inputting and analyzing results, recording attendance or storing and accessing pupil information in a ‘Pupil Passport’.”
How has the BT Infinity SME award helped you and the company?
“The support around the BT Infinity Labs competition has qualified our credentials to the public sector as a new start business. It reassures our prospects, who are early adopters essentially taking a chance on us, that we are a quality offering with a quality product.
“The company is already making excellent progress and we already had 200 schools signed up for September 2015; we are looking at 500 by Christmas 2015. We benefited from a six-figure investment, but we will break even after our first year. The bulk of our business can be attributed to local authorities and schools whom we simply wouldn’t have been able to engage without the strength of the credibility that came from our involvement with BT, which has allowed us to win new business even as a new entity.”
How do you see the future for the public sector organisations?
“Big data is forcing organisations to think about how they can group together and share information securely and efficiently, and schools are no exception. We’re answering that need with Educater.
“Data sharing is going to be the new way forward for many schools. It’s powerful, encourages collaboration and shared practice, but also helps secure better outcomes for students, especially those with complex or specialist needs.”
Any words of wisdom for other small companies wanting to work within the public sector?
“The key is to have a true partnership. Look at how you can help the organisation you’re working with – it’s no longer a case of just selling.
“We presented ourselves as development partners for the public sector. They agreed to work with us to develop the product and the partnership, and they got the software for a pound if they signed a three-year pre-release contract. Our ethos has always been to be open and share.
“Also look at how you might work together in terms of things like PR and promotion; ask to use them as a case study, for beta testing or trials. With customers or users involved at a very early stage, you’re in a much better position to develop exactly what they actually want, and that ultimately leads to a better relationship and sales.”