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Accelerating school performance through a standardized testing system - Interview with Dragos Iliescu, founder of Brio

"Nothing beats a strong and competent team!"

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Dragoș Iliescu is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Bucharest. He has been active as a consultant for the past 20 years, being involved in and having led important projects related to tests, testing and assessment around the world. He is an Associate Editor for the European Journal of Psychological Assessment, and the author of over 125 scientific papers, book chapters and books, among them the co-Editor of the acclaimed ITC International Handbook of Testing and Assessment, published in 2016 by Oxford University Press, and the author of an important monography (Adapting tests in linguistic and cultural situations) published with Cambridge University Press.

As an excellent scientist with a profound psychological and educational assessment background, Dragos is responsible for driving the vision and mission of Brio®, an EdTech startup that aims to accelerate school performance. Dive in for an insightful talk!

What was BRIO in its early days and what is it today? How has the company developed?

Like every other startup, it was tough: just a handful of people working together with little capital but with enthusiasm, having the same vision, and a rock-hard conviction that this is the way.

We have changed immensely since then, not only in size – we’re 15 now, all contributing in one way or another – but also in our capacity of having a market-driven output. Still similar to the early days are the strong vision and enthusiasm – we have not lost that!

How have you been funded so far? How did it impact your growth?

We’ve had seed capital in excess of 100K, contributed by the founders. In the early stages, we have been funded by several early (angel) investors, and one and a half year ago through an equity crowdfunding campaign on SeedBlink. Of course, this impacted our growth in many positive ways, partly due to the cash influx that, evidently, was sorely needed, but in a larger part due to the fact that our responsibility towards our shareholders has become more stringent and explicit, becoming embodied in our market approach.

What milestones have you reached since you received funding and support from SeedBlink Investors?

We’ve reached some important milestones, in terms of team, product, market, and reputation. The investment has made it possible to grow the team in excess of 10 people – and once you have more than 10 people in a project, it becomes large and needs professional management, with all the pros and cons this brings in. The product is much more mature, and we’ve succeeded to grow it on a cloud-hosted solution, with strong security and impeccable delivery. The market is now much clearer and our approach to the market is more lucid – we’ve broken the 100,000 assessments delivered per year limit.

Finally, our reputation has reached an important milestone as 90% of the level 1 & 2 players in the education sector know about BRIO and strongly appreciate what we do. So yes, a lot of milestones were reached during these past 18 months.

What is it like to partner with UiPath? What does it mean for a young, ambitious company like yours?

UIPath is – of course – a model for any Romanian tech company. Our partnership is not directly with UIPath, but with the UIPath Foundation, and their dedication to offering education to the more disadvantaged part of the population is extremely strong. We have been ‘infected’ by their vision – among others eye-opening views they shared with us; it is really a privilege to work with such competent people in a project for the greater good.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced so far?

The market is an extreme challenge itself because it is not yet clearly set and it’s still developing right now. It is very difficult to make customers clarify their needs mostly through our own effort, and maybe the efforts of a few other Romanian EdTech startups. But we have made important steps there, and I am optimistic about the future.

Pain is knowledge rushing in to fill a gap. Would you call that a highlight?

Ha-ha – that’s a Jerry Seinfeld quote. And yes, it’s true. Entrepreneurs know all about this: you cannot grow and succeed unless you embrace this kind of pain (call it market feedback if you want) – indeed, seek it out. Beware of entrepreneurs who have not had losses and backfires…

Are there lessons you have learned that you can share with others?

There are so many – but the most important one is that nothing beats a strong and competent team!

What will you focus on in 2022?

In 2022 we will consolidate our position on the Romanian market, as a strong tech solution for schools, teachers, and hopefully the entire educational system. We will also take our first international steps. Big challenges, for sure!

What are your hopes for the future of EdTech in Romania and Europe?

High hopes, naturally. No doubt this is certainly the future. The only question is if the domestic or regional businesses will have time to grow (or, let me rephrase: will grow fast enough) in order to develop and fill this important market. If not, EdTech will still become dominant in the next 10 years or so, but probably based on larger, international, but less locally adapted solutions.

What drives you? Why do you work in this field?

This is my field of expertise: psychological and educational testing & assessing. For the past 20 years, I have worked in big projects here in Romania, but also in the region and internationally, and have helped other countries’ organizations and governments to develop this kind of assessment solution. I cannot believe I cannot do it here too, in Romania, for the benefit of my own nation.

Also, part of our innovation is really deep tech – at least from a psychometric point of view – and this has a strong market value if we succeed in creating an international product driven by this technology. It is innovation in its purest form – and building technological innovation is a thrill by itself!

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Brio is launching a crowdinvesting campaign on SeedBlink on Tuesday, January 18.

SeedBlink is a full-service investment platform that enables everyday and accredited investors to access curated European tech startups through equity crowdinvesting and angel syndicates. To learn more about startup investing and tech opportunities, sign up now.

By Bianca Iulia Simion

PublishedJanuary 17, 2022


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