The American education tech entrepreneur behind the pi-top devices has outlined plans for US expansion after a recent $16 million funding round.
Jesse Lozano is co-founder and chief executive of fast-growing edtech start-up pi-top, which was founded in 2014 and now employs 80 staff across three offices in London, Texas and China.
The company, whose senior management team includes former Microsoft and Apple executives, has manufactured more than 100,000 of its pi-top devices, which are now available at over 2,000 schools around the world.
“Three years ago I was building a desk in my living room with my friend and trying to make a 3D printed laptop – and now the company’s evolved into something so much more,” Lozano told BusinessCloud.
“But it’s only evolved in that way because we’ve done nothing but really listen to the people who use pi-tops to try and make the platform amazing for them.”
Pi-top is behind a suite of hardware and software products designed to give students a better understanding of computing and coding and to learn by creating.
One of the start-up’s flagship products is a Raspberry Pi-powered modular laptop, which encourages people to build the device out with components and additional accessories.
It also recently launched its pi-top Learning System, which combines all the hardware, software, curriculum content, training and support needed to provide students around the world with valuable STEAM knowledge, while building skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, creativity and critical-thinking.
Following its $16 million investment round this summer, Lozano told BusinessCloud that he has his sights set on US expansion but insisted that the UK is still an important market for the company.
“The UK is an interesting market, and obviously are headquarters are here, but when you’re looking to scale and grow a business very quickly, the UK education market is quite fractured,” he said.
“From what I remember the largest school district here is 74 schools – whereas in America that’s your average district size.
“There are 14,000 districts in the US and 165,000 schools – so just the size alone makes it a clearer business case to branch out to America and attempt to become relevant in that market.
“That being said, you can find pi-tops in schools all over the UK and we work with charities. There’s a lot of stuff we do in the UK, but the US market is much bigger and it makes more business sense to grow in that market as quickly as possible.”
The new funding will allow pi-top to have “an increased marketing presence” and expand headcount as the company gears up to produce and distribute larger batches of devices.
“I certainly envisage us growing into several hundred employees over the next three years,” he said.
Lozano is passionate about disrupting the traditional education model, which he says has remained relatively unchanged for the last 100 years, by bringing “construction-based learning” into the mainstream.
However, he admits that it can be challenging.
“In reality it’s very difficult to deliver a construction-based approach to education unless you use technology in a way like we are that breaks down a lot of the barriers,” he said.
“I always say that you can watch YouTube videos of people swimming all you want, you can have a teacher at the front of a classroom showing you exactly how to swim – but you’re not going to learn how to unless you actually jumped in the water and tried to swim,” he said.
“Right now what we have in classrooms is teachers showing students how to swim, instead of taking them to the pool and letting them jump in.”