Student Design Sprint and Hackathon

I am looking forward to welcoming 12 teams of students to Aston Conference Centre in August for five days ed tech fun and some series design and development.

This is my 6th year of running student ed tech activity over the summer, we started the Summer of Student Innovation in 2013, each year it has bee slightly different and this year is no exception.

ARUni outputs from 2016 design sprint

ARUni outputs from 2016 design sprint

Edtech Student ideas

The teams include 7 winners of the Edtech student ideas competition who have received a £2000 prize to support their team and design or their edtech idea.

SurveyTandem. Team lead: Jakub Zimola, University College London. A web site to get people to take your student online survey for free by filling out theirs in exchange! The team are developing a free website on which anyone can post a link to their online survey and automatically collect responses in exchange for taking surveys of others.

App to the Future. Team lead: Brad Forsyth, Ravensbourne University London. The app is a directory of different university courses, work experience and apprenticeships available. It allows students to search by location, skill and subject for an experience suited to them.

Authorencity. Team lead: Hriday Agarwal, University College London.  An AI tool to detect essays that have been outsourced by students and submitted as their own for grading purposes.

TransArt. Team lead: Lenette Lua, University of Warwick. A community for arts passionate minds. Providing affordable content to people of all ages.

Citation Gecko. Team lead: Barney Walker, Imperial College London. Explore the citation network and discover relevant scientific papers!

Higherarchy. Team lead: David Buchanan, Imperial College London. An intuitive learning and revision platform where users can make their own maps

StudBud. Team lead: Ulas Can Erguney, University College London. A chat bot that helps students learn easily. We are developing an awesome chatbot that will make studying much easier and more efficient, making students’ lives better.

All of the teams will participate in a five-day design sprint based on the GV Sprint Book and supported by mentors and experts from Jisc and Emerge Education.

Teams will explore their ideas in more detail, explore users journeys, develop a wireframe prototypes or enhance existing products and undertake user testing at each step. All teams will pitch to a panel of invited guests with representatives from Jisc, Emerge Education, The House London Ltd, The Student Room, and the Department for Education. The panel will be looking for ideas that they can support through further developmental approaches.

Intelligent Campus Hackathon

They will be joined by five teams selected for the Intelligent Campus Hackathon as follows

  • Christopher Marsh “Hackstreet boys” from Nottingham Trent University
  • Alex Murphy leading team “Alpha” from the University of Bath
  • Matthew Protheroe-Hill leading a team from Teesside University
  • JackTolley leading team Daeda from the University of York
  • Connor Gill leading a team from the Loughborough University

The teams will be provided with equipment including a Raspberry Pi 3 B+, camera modules, sensors, NFC readers and lots of connectors to develop prototypes for data collection to support the intelligent campus.

They will be supported by developers from Jisc and Pan Intelligence (an Analytics & Business Intelligence Software Provider) who are also providing access to their data visualisation tools.

The hackathon teams will be competing for prize money of £1000 which will be awarded on the final day of the event.

The competed products will be used to collect data and inform Jisc’s ideas in developing a project around the intelligent campus to compliment the Learning Analytics Service that goes live on the 1 August 2018.

I expect the week to be totally exhausting, great fun (lookout for images from the serious Lego design activity) and very insightful about student ideas around edtech.

shout out team lego design 2016

Shout Out team’s Lego design 2016

All the team from Jisc benefit greatly from working with the student teams to explore and develop new areas of edtech and I hope we can share some insights following the design sprint and hackathon. Will we be doing it again – probably but it wil change and develop each year so keep an eye out for Jisc edtech activities on this blog and social media.


An insider view from Volo – 2018 cohort

A guest post from

2018 cohort

Lotis Bautista
Co-founder and Chief Community Officer, Volo Group

Mid-way through April we were ecstatic to find ourselves as one of five companies to win a place on the Jisc Edtech Startup Programme. Fast-forward to the start of the programme in May and it has already proven itself to be a turning point for us as individuals and our business. We’ve only just completed Week 3.

As a previous secondary school teacher and now co-founder of a business committed to learning and self-improvement, I can be very sceptical about “training days.” Before I enter the room, I usually consider really carefully whether this will be worth my time and will likely be hypersensitive to every “um” and rabbit-in-headlights look. I’m a tough crowd.

Add to the equation a room full of grown-ups that wear multiple hats to give their businesses a continuous pulse, get them to thrive whilst doing the marketing, strategizing, producing, selling, everything in between and all at once; how do you convince us that spending a day out of the office is really worth it?

Three key questions I ask myself:

  1. Are there clear, tangible outcomes that I can walk away with and implement more or less straight away?
  2. Do the presenters really understand that this is an opportunity for me to learn as both an individual and business owner, not just for them to talk at me?
  3. Do I trust that the people in front of me actually know what they’re talking about?

Needless to say, I was pretty ecstatic to recognise almost immediately that Jisc was likely to provide a very clear “Yes” to all of above.

Getting down to business

Day 1 of the programme- The phone call started with something similar to: “Good morning everyone, we’re here to talk you through the programme aims and outcomes and exactly what it is that we want you to get out of this. Afterwards we’ll have plenty of time for questions” Tick. Did those objectives actually make me feel like this was going to help our business? Absolutely.

Week 1 tasks- Company diagnostics: “The purpose of these activities is to make sure that we tailor the content of the kick-off to meet your exact needs, so please make sure to spend time on them.” (Not verbatim, but you get the point) I nearly fell over with excitement. Our actual company needs were being assessed in order to make sure that what we were being taught was completely relevant to where we were at that point in time. Brilliant.

Day 2 of training, Week 2 of the programme- The in-person kick off: Nic, Michael, Sue and Paul lay the groundwork for a day of action. Without giving too much away to future cohorts, there were a lot of us in the room with a lot of different starting and thinking points in terms of business stage, product market fit, validation and “traction” (and other very jargony, but nonetheless important words and even more importantly, action points). Did we all leave with an answer as to what to do next to propel our businesses into the next key stage or at least have something to do immediately to find the important answers that we didn’t already have? Yes.

Next steps

A few more weeks in and we are being prompted into our next set of actions: Do you know exactly who your customer segments are? Are you actually solving a Tier 1 problem? Excellent question. Am I?! Are we?! Very few sessions in the past have given me exciting existential angst. This is exactly what a young business needs.

The final verdict? Anyone can stand up in front of a room of people and talk shop but very few can stand up and inspire tangible action. Every interaction with Jisc has so far emphasised the importance of value over vanity and the value that they have brought to our business has already been unparalleled. And I’m so pleased to be reminded that at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

Thank you for letting us be part of your cohort.

About Volo:

At VOLO Group, we believe that everyone should have the chance to excel both personally and professionally. That’s why we’ve built career development technology to not only help you discover what you really want out of your career, but to connect you to the right opportunities, information and support to help you get there.

VOLO isn’t like other skill building platforms where you watch video after video telling you how to improve yourself. We connect you to real-life activities and roles where you get hands on experience to help you improve your skills whilst working on projects that make a real difference in the world.

Get involved with our Intelligent campus hackathon


As part of our edtech launchpad programme we are looking for student teams from universities and colleges across the UK to join us in building the campus of the future.

The aim of the hackathon is for student teams to design, develop and build “something” that would benefit students in the world that is the intelligent campus.  We are looking for some creative students to spend a week in August working to build and test tools that can enhance the student experience and make the campus more intelligent.

There’s up to £1,000 in prizes up for grabs, we’ll provide you with equipment and cover your accommodation and expenses.  .

Venue: Conference Aston, Birmingham

Timings: 12:00 Monday 6 August to 13:00 Friday 10 August

You’ll will need to bring laptops and the ideal team size is 2-4 people.

for more information contact

Entry form

Come along and join us – lets create something exciting.

Welcome to our edtech start-ups 2018 cohort


We ran the competition and announced the winners, and now its time to get down to the hard work.   Our 2018 programme kicks-off on Thursday 24th May and I’m excited and looking forward to working with our winners:

  • Blackbullion – a learning platform for students to get control of their money.
  • Oslr – an app to facilitate education centred around bedside teaching in hospitals.
  • VOLO – shaping the workforce of the future through skilled volunteering
  • Synap – an app to create, practice and share multiple choice tests and quizzes.
  • Student Circus – job finding for international students

who will be joined on the programme by Open Campus – the world’s first single platform technology bringing SIS, LMS and ERP together

Our initial welcome call bodes well for an engaged and proactive cohort – good luck everyone and i hope you enjoy the programme.


Edtech Start-ups 2018

We have just selected our new cohort of start-ups for the Edtech Launchpad start-ups programme for 2018. The selection process took place at Jisc Digifest 2018 on the 6 March 2018. Having already been shortlisted, nine companies presented to an interview panel of experts and pitched to the Digifest audience as part of the process.



The quality of companies continues to increase every year and the winners are congratulated to have made it through to the final five.


The five successful companies are

  • Blackbullion – a learning platform for students to get control of their money.
  • Oslr – an app to facilitate education centred around bedside teaching in hospitals.
  • VOLO – shaping the workforce of the future through skilled volunteering
  • Synap – an app to create, practice and share multiple choice tests and quizzes.
  • Student Circus – job finding for international students.

There is more information see  news story startups win thousands to develop edtech innovations.

digifest startup pitches

digifest startup pitches

The nine participants each gave a 3 minute pitch to the Digifest audience to help us decide the final five that will enter our development programme. Each delivered a concise and engaging pitch to a lively audience. It was obviously not the first time these participants had presented their products as the timing was impeccable

After each pitch, the audience were given the opportunity to score each via a poll, accessible from our event app. Scores were then considered by the selection panel of experts when deciding the five successful startups.

The selection panel had a difficult job to choose between the nine companies who each presented a convincing case for them joining the programme.

The five winners will now participate in a six month programme starting in May where they will explore and validate their idea product, market, business model and growth plan facilitated by experts and mentors from Jisc and Emerge education. The programme will be led by Nic Newman a partner in Emerge Educator and a successful entrepreneur.

However we should keep an eye out for the four runners-up

  • Adhoc Academic  – connecting universities and colleges with professionals and temporary academic staff. A useful service that we may see grow in the next year.
  • Hoolr – buying and selling second-hand text books and now offering an online tutoring service. Watch this founder as he has more ideas to offer.
  • ThinkSmart – a careers matching service with some interesting tools and services.
  • Stucomm – an already successful student focussed learning app in Europe, which may be set to take over the UK market.

Two of the startup companies we interviewed were also previous winners of the Summer of Student Innovation student ideas competition, so I am pleased to see they are continuing to be successful. The 2018 student ideas competition is now open for submissions, closing date 30 April 2018, where we will be looking out for the ideas that could form the start-up companies of the future.

A new guest blog – Atif Mahmood from Lumici

Atif Mahmood

Today we hear from Atif Mahmood, Founder and CEO of Lumici, and a recent graduate of the latest Jisc/Emerge start-up programme.  Lumici is an online collaborative lesson planning platform enabling teachers to use and modify existing lesson templates from other teachers. Just like Google has solved collaborative working in the enterprise, Lumici is solving it for lesson planning but in schools.

3 way’s we successfully pitched at the end of our JISC accelerator to a panel of judges

Recently graduating from the JISC Startup Accelerator with what we wanted to come out with as a tangible outcome was an incredible feeling. Having been exposed to account managers, marketeers and even the Chief Executive we’re in the right place for 6 months to develop the right skills, grow a deeper understanding of the Further Education and Higher Education market and be market ready when we graduate from the accelerator and that’s exactly where we are now.

I also want to touch on how we grabbed the attention of JISC and why pitching in the right way during and at the end of the accelerator makes huge difference. So here are my 3 killer tips!

  1. If you want to stand out from fellow presenters, you will have to answer this question right from the start: “Why is your startup different?”

Every startup’s unique selling point is different, and it does not always have to be about your product. It could be the existing traction or the track records of your team. Gain the audience’s trust and confidence right at the start by giving them the right reasons to pay attention. Trust and confidence goes a long way in education and because too many edict startups make false claims and don’t deliver on why they really stand out, do some research on your competitors and really understand what makes you stand out. It’s something I learnt to do during my time at Emerge Education and JISC.

  1. Sell the benefits and value to your audience and not just product features. JISC have a huge portfolio of products and have a deep understanding of the needs of the current market in FE and HE and its customers so get to know JISC and sell them your benefits and value.

Think of JISC as an investor in you.  Here is a list of frequent questions from Investors, which links to profitability: Answer these questions

  • How do you monetise your product?
  • How scalable is your business?
  • How can you dominate the market and stay ahead?
  • What are the opportunities?
  • When can returns be expected?
  • Is now the best time to enter this market?
  1. Blanket and ambiguous statements. Efficacy and credibility go a long way in presenting your argument and case for your startup to JISC. Make sure you present evidence to support your case, and not just big bold claims that will definitely be seen as false. Let me give you an example:

AirBnBs presentation is a great example of how to be specific. When the founder talked about Market Adoption, he listed partner names, the size of the audience at events and a viable way to poach customers from Craigslist.

Impact, value and presenting your ideas with an evidence based approach is key in proving there is value in your product to customers in education.

Having this approach will help you immensely during and at the of your JISC Programme.

Jisc/Emerge Start-ups Programme Pitch Day

Introducing Michael Murdoch of The House, a key contributor to the Jisc/Emerge start-ups programme with a guest blog:



By Michael Murdoch, CEO of The House –

The Panel:

  • Emerge: Nic Newman
  • The House: Michael Murdoch
  • Jisc:  Paul Feldman, Jon Tucker, Phil Richards & Pete Scott

The Startups:

  1. Aula is a communication platform dedicated to education
  2. Hubbub builds a culture of giving in universities, making alumni, student and staff fundraising fun, engaging and inclusive
  3. Lumici halves the time it takes to plan lessons
  4. Vineup nurtures a culture of alumni volunteering
  5. Bibliotech is the Spotify for textbooks.
  6. Wildfire have created the world’s first AI content production tool that creates online content in minutes not months

The Process:

  • Each team had 10 minutes to pitch, followed by 10 minutes of questions from the panel and 5 minutes of questions from the audience in the room.
  • The panel de-brief then agreed to assess each startup based on the following questions…
    • Is Jisc interested in pursuing further?
    • What does Jisc want to offer them?
    • Is Jisc able to assist further with the startup needs?  

In March 2017, the shortlisted startups attended Digifest in Birmingham to pitch their ideas to the panel.  This was the start of their journey to join the latest cohort of the Jisc/Emerge Startup Programme.  After a long day of pitches privately to the panel, the teams had the chance to pitch to the attendees of Digifest in the main hall and encounter their fate via an online voting system. The six teams named above were chosen to complete the programme starting in May 2017.

Throughout the programme the energy was high, with in person workshops every other month, online discussions monthly, weekly check-ins, monthly deliverable report and six specialist sessions for each venture on subjects like brand, tech, SEO, growth, UX and UI.  It’s all part of the startup journey helping each team develop their ideas, test out their hypothesise and grow as organisations.

On Friday 24th November, months of hard work for each team culminated with a 10 minute presentation and time for questions from the panel and the room.  It was a chance for the startups to show their progress, refine and test their offering and to pitch for further support from Jisc.  Each team did brilliantly, keeping their presentations succinct and to time with plenty of questions flowing from the panel and audience in the room.  Of course, some were more challenging than others, but this was the point, helping the startups further strengthen their proposition so they are ready for sales, partner or investor presentations in the future.

The panel reviewed all pitches after the morning and afternoon sessions and had a difficult time making their selection.  After much discussion the feedback was collated and will be shared with the teams in the coming week.  

On a personal note, it’s been a pleasure to support the Jisc Startup Programme again this year.  From initial selections to the final pitch day, it’s a joy to see the teams develop over the course of the programme taking on ideas and thoughts from a range of practitioners who have the experience and knowledge to fast-track their progress. I look forward to being involved for the next cohort in 2018 too

Introducing Edtech Launchpad


Student giving a presentation

Edtech Launchpad is about supporting students, start-ups and companies to develop new edtech ideas.  Its split into three parts:

  • Student ideas competition open to all UK students 16+, judged in categories schools, colleges, universities – Summer 2018 – register your interest now. Follow the conversation on Twitter using #studentideas
  • Running for the fourth time our start-ups competition open to early-stage startups, as well as successful teams from the ideas competition who have a market-ready product – Spring 2018 – Find out about the startups selected following our 2017 competition. 
  • New this year is the accelerator is aimed at startups, worldwide, with a small number of paying customers- 2018

We want to identify and work with students, as well as products from startups and established companies, that have the potential to benefit the further and higher education sector.

Taking part in the competitions will help develop entrepreneurial and employability skills as well as offering the chance to access further support.

All successful entrants will receive coaching and mentoring from both Jisc and Emerge Education,our partners in this project, to further develop their ideas and products.  Start-ups will also be eligible for equity funding.

We think companies taking part in our accelerator could have a significant impact on our members and become suppliers of essential services.

By developing relationships and working with them in their early stages, we can steer them in the right direction to ensure they meet the needs of the further and higher education sectors. We can also mitigate risks and provide reassurance to members when they’re buying products from startups.

We’re excited to think of the fresh ideas that will be entered into this years competitions.



Accelerating with Jisc

Welcome to our Edtech Launchpad blog.  We will use this blog to share participant journeys and programme updates.

Our first post is a guest blog from one of our 2017 edtech start-up accelerator cohort,  which has been running Jun – Nov 17.   Martin Campbell from Hubbub talks about his experience:

Martin Campbell - guest blog

Martin Campbell – guest blog

Over the past six months, I’ve taken Hubbub, a tech startup which revolutionises how higher education institutions and charities raise funds, through the accelerator programme run by Jisc and Emerge Education.

As a seasoned entrepreneur with several companies under my belt, I expected to find much of the material pretty familiar, but what surprised me was the value of looking closely at the two areas that the accelerator has focused on.

First the programme takes a back to basics approach, looking at the core problem that the business is solving, what customers think that problem is and what “solved” looks like for them.  Whilst I initially did some eye rolling at this “haven’t we been here before” I was quickly brought up short by realising that: yes, we had been there before, but stuff has changed and stuff has been forgotten.  Reconnecting with the basics of our product and our customers has enabled us to cut out a lot of the extraneous stuff that was starting to take our time and attention away from the value that we bring to customers.  We were starting to get too comfortable, modelling ourselves on the big companies in our market instead of remembering what customers needed us to do, which is to stay laser focused on delivering the results they need in their own particular circumstance.

Second, the programme focuses on sales.  This is an area that often doesn’t get much of a look in on “startup” programmes, where the belief is that the magical venture capital fairy will continue to shower cash from her magic wand indefinitely.  With the Jisc programme, we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on sales, on the techniques, the collateral, the processes and most importantly the people that we’re selling to.  For me this is the most valuable material of all, because when you cut away all the trendy Shoreditch jargon about product market fit and minimum viable products you are left with only one question to answer: will people buy our stuff.  Answering that always involves answering “that depends: how are you selling it to them?” and that’s the question that we’ve been focusing on answering in this accelerator.


Martin Campbell is an award-winning serial entrepreneur who has founded, grown and sold technology companies throughout his 20-year career.  From his original training in engineering –  the proper kind with grease and gears – he quickly saw that technology was going to change business and society.  Founding his first start-up while still studying for his degree, he developed a leading digital agency which was behind some of the most significant innovations in its field.  He then went on to deliver growth and transformative change in national and international businesses across digital, non-profit and financial technology.  Now a speaker, author and consulting entrepreneur, his work takes him around the world from his base in London, where he also mentors and supports the leaders in other high growth companies when he’s not acting as a taxi service for his three daughters.  Blog at