As Ben Hallett of Vygo prepares to head to the Global Startup Super League in London in June this year, he spoke to EduGrowth about his student support software, his path to success and winning the EdTechX Australian Final.
Ben (and Vygo) entered the EduGrowth ecosystem in 2017, but his EdTech journey started a few years earlier when he and his co-founders noticed a gap in their university’s student support services.
- Co-founders Ben Hallett & Joel Di Trapani maximised a chance encounter with a future mentor and investor in 2017
- The peer mentoring platform is now in 1 in 5 Australian universities & expanding globally
- Vygo to represent Australia in the 2020 Global Startup Super League in London
Cracks in student support
A Gold Coast native, Ben is a passionate musician, and studied civil engineering at Griffith University and the University of Queensland. Sharing both his academic studies, and his music abilities, Ben was a mentor and tutor, working with other students to support them in their journeys.
He along with two friends saw an opportunity:
“As long-time mentors ourselves, we were quite aware of the power of peer learning to motivate, reassure and inspire students who are struggling. We wanted to make it easier for every student to access a quality peer tutor or mentor when they needed it most.”
From this, the three worked together on the predecessor for Vygo: uqengtutor.com.
Their idea was to connect students looking for support directly with those willing and able to tutor and assist.
“We thought we had a good idea from the very beginning, but we were also aware of our optimistic tendencies. When we released our MVP ‘uqengtutor.com’ and had an overwhelming response from students, we were sure the idea actually had legs,” Ben said.
A basic website, a typeform, a spreadsheet and 100 black and white posters was enough to generate that excitement! So the trio set to work on developing an app that would take a year to build. This is when they approached EduGrowth.
“We wanted to access mentoring and some capital, so when googling we came across EduGrowth. I reached out and signed up to a pitch night. We won the pitch night, and then EduGrowth invited us to speak at the AFR Higher Education conference,” said Ben.
Ben says the opportunity to attend and present at the 2017 AFR Higher Education conference was integral to the early success of Vygo. Conferences play an important role in connecting with educators, but many, Ben says, aren’t priced to be accessible to startups.
With the speaking slot in the calendar, Ben and the team set out to learn more about the challenges and opportunities in the higher education sector. At the conference, the Vygo founders got to hear from universities, investors and industry heavyweights.
Investing in a "student support sharing economy"
During the AFR Higher Education conference Ben says they met future customers, gained valuable feedback and learned about the industry and so successful was the trip that they even connected with a future investor in their platform.
Specifically, this opportunity uncovered unexpected B2B interest and sparked a mentoring relationship with Larsen Ventures. These two important milestones would go on to influence the success of the business. Vygo subsequently pivoted the business model to a B2B SaaS platform signing up three initial partners in 2018. Concurrently, raising a pre-seed investment round from Larsen Ventures alongside a series of high-profile angel investors, as well as securing a grant from the QLD Government.
Partnering for student success
Vygo is now used by 1 in 5 Australian universities, with their sights set on growing that number and expanding into the VET and pathway sectors. Ben and his partners have expanded their team with specialists in higher education, and have been working on building strategic partnerships and expanding operations into the UK.
All this was built from their idea to connect students with mentors who can help them achieve their academic and career goals. It’s a way to connect people, and Vygo is committed to helping students get the help they need, whenever they need it, from within their student and staff community.
Their current offering includes the Vygo Mobile App, the Vygo Web Platform, and the Partner Portal.
With Vygo, learning providers create engaging, scalable and trackable communities for all of their student mentoring programs, from class-specific academic help to first-year mentoring to industry mentoring.
Students use the platform to find and connect with peers they can relate to, receive personalised support via in-app chat, and book online or in-person sessions with their mentors. Leveraging the dynamics of the modern sharing economy, the Vygo platform puts a strong focus on student engagement and experience. As a result, Vygo’s partners are seeing significant increases in the volume and level of student engagement within their programs.
The world awaits
The team at Vygo are deep in preparations for their first UK university partner, Coventry University with over 30,000 students and campuses across the UK. In addition, Vygo will pitch in the Global Startup Super League as part of EdTechX Europe during London EdTech Week in June.
Vygo will represent Australia after winning the EdTechX Australian pitch final that was held in Sydney in November 2019. This extraordinary event will feature 30 startups from across the world vying for £100k in prizes. Each having just 90 seconds to pitch and 90 seconds to answer questions from the judges in a marathon 90 minute long pitch event!
2020 is set to be an exciting year for Vygo as they continue to grow their team to meet demand, expand globally, add unique new features to the product and raise a seed round of investment with strategic partners.