Institutions buy innovatively through SURF: tender especially for start-ups

Educational institutions and SURF collaborating with start-ups on solutions and challenges in education? Yes indeed!

Twee studentes kijken samen naar een laptop

Increasingly, we are getting requests for innovative solutions from or with start-ups. This group struggles in tender processes with established vendors. To meet the needs of its members, SURF is working with the Acceleration Plan in the Start-up in Residence (SiR) EdTech programme.

SiR EdTech Programme: all challenges in one tender

In the SiR EdTech programme, educational institutions submit an issue (challenge) for which there is no hardware or software solution yet. For each challenge, a suitable start-up is sought to create an innovative solution during a pilot. Because we are looking for an unknown (partial) solution and not a ready-made product, SURF publishes all challenges at the start of the process in a single tender.

Why are regular procurement processes not ideal if you want to work with start-ups?

Start-ups often have innovative ideas, but do not yet always have a (fully developed) solution specifically aimed at education. This is difficult in a tender process in which established vendors also participate. After all, they have been developing their products for years and have invested a lot in them. Moreover, with large vendors, the costs for institutions tend to be higher as well. Designing the tender to pre-sort on a certain type of vendor is not legally allowed.

According to institutions, the lack of start-up vendors in education does not ensure sufficient market development, market forces and innovation within the sector.

Desired solution not specifically defined

In addition, at SiR EdTech programme the desired solution is not specifically defined. A regular tender process lends itself perfectly to the demand for specific hardware or software. The requirements for this solution are bundled and published in a tender. Vendors meeting these criteria subscribe for the tender. In the case of the SiR EdTech programme, the desire is different. If you have a challenge as an institution, you can ask a start-up to solve it. It is then not yet clear what the solution looks like.

Tender brought forward

The problem with this is that because of European regulations, tendering still has to be done if the solution ends up being too big. You cannot then continue the collaboration with the start-up you entered into. To avoid this problem, we brought forward the tendering process in the SiR EdTech programme. This way, the laws and regulations are already taken into account before the start of the cooperation.

Working together on the best solution

After completing the tendering process, the participating institutions, SURF and the start-ups will work together in various pilots for up to six months. In these pilots, prototypes of IT solutions will be created, partly through workshops. These solutions are continuously refined and finally finalised. SURF guides the start-ups in the necessary components such as setting up privacy and security. The institutions provide input around the use of the solution and then test it in practice. This gives the start-up the chance to develop a solution that fully meets the needs of the education sector. At the end of the pilot, the institution can enter into a four-year agreement with the relevant vendor.

Participation in regular tender

At that time, the start-up's solution will also have been developed to the point where participation in a regular tender is possible. This way, other institutions can also legitimately and long-term use this IT solution.

Do you also have a challenge?

In 2023, we will again jointly develop a number of challenges in pilots. Do you have a challenge within your institution where the SiR EdTech programme could be a solution? Check out the possibilities on the website of the Acceleration Plan. More information about SURF's various procurement options can be found on our website.