Most startup founders agree with the view that STEM (Science and Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects should have a greater focus within the Australian and New Zealand school system.
When it comes to mathematical education specifically, what’s lacking is real-world mathematics being taught in schools. Real-world mathematics teaches kids about managing income, taxes, loans and all the other financial issues individuals face once they leave the safety of school and are no longer under the care of a guardian.
Wellington based startup Banqer is an online platform that facilitates the teaching of financial education in the classroom in a fun engaging way, creating a virtual ‘classroom currency’. Children have their own bank accounts and get a rich understanding of what it means to be in charge of your own personal finances.
In addition to this, teachers can enable ‘modules’ to allow students to transact with other students in the classroom. The platform also allows students to take out and pay back loans and pay tax. Banqer will be adding other modules in the future that will allow students to learn about insurance and real estate.
The origin of Banqer dates back to when co-founder Kendall Flutey, who used to be an accountant and at the time was studying software development, went back home during in her mid-term break and was having a conversation with her 11-year-old brother. Typically conversations with him were around topics like sport, but during this particular weekend Flutey found that a lot of his questions were regarding starting a company, company structures and other business related topics.
Impressed by the level of conversation that she was having with her younger sibling, Flutey quizzed him on where all this terminology and line of questioning was coming from, and it turned out his teacher, Micah Hocquard was running a really cool financial program in his classroom. Flutey was only home in Christchurch for the weekend and so decided to contact her brother’s teacher and meet him for coffee the next day and discuss what he was doing in more detail. With her coding knowledge Flutey saw an opportunity to merge what he was doing with technology, creating a scalable platform for the classroom.
Less than two weeks later, the pair took the idea to a Startup Weekend and Banqer was born. The team currently consists of four co-founders, with an extended team of advisors and a couple of ad hoc contractors.
Banquer’s monetisation model is pretty simply: the company charges per student per classroom a subscription fee. There are currently 150 classrooms signed up to the service across New Zealand.
On the challenges of penetrating into the school system, Flutey confirms that early traction has been a challenge especially when dealing with schools and teachers who are so committed to a system that’s been around for a long time.
“It has been challenging at times because in a sense we’re competing against those entrenched subjects like traditional science, english, and maths. Then we come along and spurt that ‘engaging financial education is the most important thing’,” says Flutey.
Flutey recognises that parents are going to be one of the biggest drivers in helping the company assist that penetration into the school system, particularly because the platform has been designed to work best replicating a ‘greater economy’, which is usually 15 or more students. With parental buy-in increasing, the schools have become much more receptive.
Flutey says the best results are achieved when Banqer is used throughout the whole school day (replicating a real-world economy) as opposed to just being taught during the time when mathematics is being learnt.
While there is definitely global potential for the startup, the Banqer team is currently focusing on reaching a high saturation point within the New Zealand school system. Part of that process is working with the government and education sector to highlight the need for financial literacy in young students. After that, locations like Australia and the United States are definitely in the expansion plans.
The venture has been completely bootstrapped to date, and has won some prize money from local startup competitions. Flutey says that in order to grow the company, and have its product used in thousands of school classrooms, a seed funding round may be required, though who is attached to that money and the doors they can open will be more important than the money itself.
“For us it’s not just the money, it’s also who’s attached to the money,” says Flutey. ” What is really important is to have a relationship with our investors and make sure they care as much as we do about the vision we have for Banqer and for financial education as a greater purpose.”
Startup Daily is currently in Wellington touring the startup ecosystem as a guest of Positively Wellington.