Tuesday, 09 April 2019 00:50

AWS EdStart puts Aussie educational technology companies at top of the class

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Global web host Amazon Web Services launched its AWS EdStart start-up accelerator last year, but is already seeing impressive results for at least two Australian entrepreneurs.

AWS EdStart provides AWS credits, mentorship, access to architect expertise, access to venture capitalists and more, explains Vincent Quah, Regional Head – Education, Research, Healthcare and Not-For-Profit APAC Public Sector AWS. However, entry is limited to companies that are under five years of age, have less than $10 million revenue, and importantly, are focused on the educational sector and its customers come from that sector.

“We want to create an ecosystem for education tech startups,” Quah said.

“We help them understand the AWS range of service and design an architecture that scales up and takes security into consideration,” he said. “We provide AWS promotional credits so when they use the cloud services they can focus on the business solutions they deliver.”

Companies do not graduate from AWS EdStart and are free to remain in the program, with continuing access to architects for guidance on new AWS services.

AWS has already seen successes in Australia, the likes of School Bytes and Saasyan, both of which have a clear solution and value for their customers.

School Bytes

School Bytes has the remarkable story of being founded by Blake Garrett as a year 12 student in 2015.

Blake Garrett 2

“I was sitting in the office with office staff, who were printing a thousand pieces of paper. They were all individual statements of accounts, credit card requests and so on and were bundling them together. I asked why are you doing this? They said once a term, at least, they have to print out all these to request permission notes and other important parent correspondence, collate and fold them and put them into an envelope. I felt this was crazy, giving me the idea to streamline communication between the school and parents,” Garrett explains.

The young entrepreneur built his first version of School Bytes which he installed at his high school alma mater, Chatswood High School, to email statements to parents, and also enable parents to pay online via a portal. They could see P&C committee items, permission notes and all sorts of useful items.

Garrett considered studying at University but his primary school, Artarmon Public, heard of Chatswood High School’s new software and were keen to get in on this new found productivity. The primary school offered to pay and Garrett knew he truly had found a genuine and widespread need, with schools seeking efficiencies in their administration.

Now 326 NSW Government schools are using the system. The AWS EdStart program helped immensely with scalability and uptime to meet demand, the installed base doubling year on year.

The company has grown to seven staff, with another four to five about to be hired, to keep up with demand for the features schools are requesting.

There’s no soon end to School Bytes’ market, with about 2,200 Government schools in NSW alone.

Garrett built School Bytes as a hobby to help Chatswood High School; he didn’t imagine three years later he would have hundreds of schools using it on a daily basis.

Saasyan

Greg Margossian is an experienced IT professional and while consulting several years ago observed two private school clients were trying to manage their duty of care to students’ cyber well-being via web filtering or firewall blocking of “bad” websites, and that’s as far as it went.

Greg Headshot

One school discussed with Margossian how much better it would be if there was a piece of software, deliverable over the cloud, that was simple enough for non-IT people to report on web activity, or add and remove blocks, or similar functions.

This was a problem worth solving, he thought and created Saasyan, a SaaS solution with Web filtering and reporting. The school purchase the product and other schools came along interested in what it could do for them.

While Saasyan already made managing web filtering vastly simpler for schools than logging a ticket for a specialised resource to modify router configurations, the product developed as schools discussed with Margossian their pastoral care obligations, and how data around potentially dangerous Internet activity or cyber-bullying, would provide very helpful visibility.

For example, if a student was searching for a suicide hotline on a regular basis the school could identify this and refer the student to counselling staff, Margossian explained.

Other schools wanted to control classroom content, either allowing or preventing student access to particular Internet services with simple actions they could perform.

Saasyan now has five full-time employees and is looking to hire two more.

The company joined AWS EdStart in August 2018 and Margossian states it has been helpful to receive cloud credits, participate in meetups, and have access to AWS solutions architects and other resources who act as a sounding board.

“The whole area of cyber-welfare or e-citizenship is new and schools are coming to realise how important it is,” Margossian says. “It just takes a Google search to see if someone has a bad social profile. It is important and schools have to be diligent in educating kids,” he said.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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