Turning a good idea into a viable business takes time, hard work and support – this is what Deirdre Lyons, founder and CEO, discovered on her two-year journey with online teaching tool start-up, Examfly. As one of the recent recipients of Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund (CSF), Examfly has grown from a good idea into a promising business with big ambitions.
“Ideas on their own only have a limited value; you need the business apparatus to wrap around the idea, and that requires focus, time and help,” explains Deirdre.
“Support through Enterprise Ireland’s CSF was a real turning point for the company as it allowed us to refine the product and gave us the time to research and develop the market.”
“Within six to eight months we had a major client signed up and will be launching our platform with a second client this month.”
Small beginnings to big ambitions
The story of Examfly began, like many start-ups, when Deirdre spotted a gap in the market for a teaching resource to help students with professional tax and accountancy exams. A former lecturer and grinds teacher with the Tax Institute of Ireland, Deirdre could see how people were struggling with the material and how it was taught.
“The people who are studying these subjects are working full-time, generally as trainees of big firms, and they find it hard to fit in study and to test themselves on their knowledge. These are dense and technical areas; we’re also in a time of diminishing attention span, so it’s harder to settle down to this sort of material.
“Our solution is a set of interactive online tools that teach the material using animated videos which provides a punchy, fun and visual way to learn the material. Then we use game-based tools for testing your knowledge, building your confidence in the subject and understanding where you might be struggling.”
“These subjects are not just about learning but they’re also about skill acquisition. In other words, unlike school exams where you’d just spit out knowledge that you have taken in, with these exams you have to apply the knowledge in context. Our tools recognise this: they are are quick, interactive, fun and backed by insights from education psychology and technology that furthers the student’s progress rather than diminishing their attention span even further.
“Covid-19 accelerated the move to online learning, but it also revealed that not all online learning is created equally, so we’ve had a lot of engagement from big firms recently. The failure rate in these subjects is as much as 50%. The feedback on Examfly is that it’s more enjoyable, painless and effective to study using our tools than the traditional book and/or talking-head PowerPoint.”
Another advantage is the data that this software gathers. “We use the data we get on progress and potential pain points to give the firms insights about how the students are doing, where their strengths lie and what they might be struggling with. This allows us to adapt the learning journey for the student too, and on a collective basis it helps us improve the learning experience.”
And for Examfly, the sky really is the limit – this software has potential for many other subjects as well as updating skill sets and professional development.
The power of support
Deirdre began to develop her idea through research, looking at the psychology of education, and the difference between learning and skill acquisition. Then, to get the time and the support to see if her idea could turn into a viable business, she embarked on Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme in November 2018; this is an early start-up programme that gives innovators six months to explore their idea.
“By the time I finished New Frontiers, I had the MVP (Minimal Viable Product) ready, I received a lot of good feedback and I really felt that the idea had potential. I had left my job so I needed either a big customer or some sort of investment to continue with the idea, as well as the sort of supports offered in the Enterprise Ireland ecosystem.”
“I felt the CSF was a great fit for us, and winning it allowed us to develop the product and the business further. In essence, it gave us time.”
While the money and support offered by the CSF was beneficial, Deirdre felt that the application process also helped advance her business. “The application process is very rigorous but it’s also a great exercise in working out your business model. It really interrogates both the idea and the business, and your plan for execution. It forces you to think very ambitiously. The pitching process is hard, because it comes down to being able to express everything you want for your business in a concise but exciting way. You also need to stand over it for the follow-up questions. It’s very good practice for speaking to angel investors, or any other investors further down the line.
“The CSF is a great way to take that next step; the value that you get from this is far more than just the money, it’ll change your confidence level, your ambition. Even if you don’t get it the first time around, your business and your idea will be a lot stronger for having gone through the process.”
Apply for Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund – find the application form and eligibility criteria here.