Breaking into the edtech procurement system

Top tips from Sue Attewell, Head of EdTech at Jisc

At Jisc, we believe that education technology (edtech) has rich potential to help UK colleges and universities solve some of their biggest challenges. We’ve been around for over 30 years, pushing the boundaries of what is possible, encouraging the adoption and use of digital technologies within UK teaching, learning and research.  In that time, we’ve learned an awful lot about what works well and we know a lot about what makes the sector tick.

Jisc now does three main things:

  • We operate shared digital infrastructure and services
  • We negotiate sector-wide deals with IT vendors and commercial publishers
  • We provide trusted advice and practical assistance for colleges, learning providers and universities

As part of our R&D work, we are exploring how we can build a vibrant, highly effective edtech ecosystem, with seamless collaboration between colleges, universities, tech developers and start-ups, to ensure learners get the educational experience they deserve.  In all of this activity, we get to see inside many of the legacy systems and how buying decisions are made for new technologies.

Breaking into the procurement system

One of the big challenges for innovative ideas is how to break into the procurement system and prove your product or service offers something really new and valuable.

Colleges can enjoy significant benefits when choosing a start-up over a long-established supplier, such as greater responsiveness, flexible and enhanced customer support and the opportunity to shape the direction of a new product or service.

However, faced with a choice between becoming an early adopter of untested technology or maintaining existing approaches and systems, colleges quite sensibly often ‘play safe’ and opt for the status quo.

Top tips

As a market disruptor, to break through that barrier, you will need to set your product apart and show that you offer impact, value and potential.  Here are some of our top tips on ways to approach potential clients:

  1. Clearly show that you have identified a top-priority sector challenge and have found an innovative way to effectively resolve it. Validate with a range of potential customers that it really is a priority problem that needs addressing - providing solutions to ‘nice-to-solve’ problems won’t be enough to encourage institutions to invest time, money, or resources.  Then demonstrate that your product has been specifically designed to meet that challenge.
  2. Spell out your value proposition – why should they buy it from you and what difference will it make?  Colleges want to know that the product is affordable as well as effective and overall good value for money.  Don’t forget that how you measure performance is a key part of this.  It’s a good idea to define metrics of success and to provide testimonials from colleges that have piloted the product and can talk about its positive impact across a range of measures.
  3. Get the IT and security basics right to give buyers confidence in your solution:
  • Demonstrate that your product complies with the ten steps to cyber security 
  • Develop a user-friendly product that is designed with the customer in mind.
  • Make implementation easy by ensuring it will work with existing systems and preferably with single sign on functionality.
  • Produce clear onboarding procedures and guidance, supported with offers of staff training and practical help.

Good luck! Keep trying if at first you don’t succeed. Refine your pitch and your service based on the feedback they give you. It can be hard work, but incredibly rewarding to see your product making real improvements to the work or study of staff or students.

For more ideas and advice, have a look at our edtech webpage to find out more and keep up to date with our activities.

Sue Attewell, Head of Edtech, Jisc