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Cheyne Tan always knew that he wanted to be an entrepreneur. He just did not expect it to happen quite so fast.
This week, the London Business School MBA graduate and his three co-founders will announce that they have sold their educational technology company BlikBook to US analytics company Civitas Learning for an undisclosed sum.
It is heady days for the four, who began their journey with BlikBook less than five years ago. Their success so far has been all about being in the right place at the right time.
BlikBook — so-called because of the tendency of students to “bounce” between pages and “flick” quickly between content when engaging with digital material — was created to address some of the issues the four founders had experienced themselves.
“Within our class there was a large variance in capability, experience and knowledge — creating natural clusters ranging from students that just ‘got it’ to students that struggled,” says Mr Tan.
The platform was designed to help lecturers improve their discussions with students and enable learners to get support from both their professors and peers. However, although it initially sought to drive discussion around course content, the founders quickly discovered that it was interpreting the data generated from these conversations that enabled professors to predict which students would need additional help if they were to persevere.
In 2008, Mr Tan joined the MBA programme at London Business School and teamed up with Barnaby Voss and Deepak Colluru to complete a second-year project, which proved to be the genesis of BlikBook.
Realising they needed additional technical support, they enlisted the help of computer science PhD student Ben Hall from neighbouring London university, UCL. The four then became part of the first cohort to have access to the newly-launched incubator at LBS, where they developed their ideas.
Ready to launch
The company launched at a time when undergraduate university fees were big news in the UK.
“As fees went up, dropouts became more of a problem [for university finances],” explains Mr Tan. Student feedback was also becoming increasingly important for drawing students in.
The BlikBook platform attracted both universities and investors, with the start-up becoming one of the first edtech ventures to get funding in the UK. The company is now involved in courses at one in three UK universities and most universities in Ireland.
The BlikBook team began to discuss collaboration with Civitas in 2014, with the aim of extending the scope of what they could offer to European universities.
“The problem was that we were only addressing one indicator,” says Mr Tan — engagement.
Civitas has become a specialist in using predictive analytics through student records to help all students, the high-achievers as well as those who were struggling.
BlikBook in turn brings something additional to the table, says Mark Milliron, co-founder and chief learning officer at Civitas. “Their work with engagement is compelling.”
Two of the BlikBook team will stay with Civitas, Mr Colluru as director of solutions engineering at Civitas Learning International and Mr Tan as the international arm’s managing director.
As for Mr Voss, he has moved to Google, while Mr Hall has gone on to run another start-up.