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China's rising STEAM education sector draws investor interest

Science, tech, engineering, math and arts are all the rage for private schools

Most Chinese STEAM education companies operate in big cities, but New Factory got its start in smaller regional cities. (Photo courtesy of New Factory Maker Education)

BEIJING -- Chinese education company New Factory Maker Education is turning up the STEAM.

STEAM is short for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, and New Factory Maker Education and other education providers are racing to develop curricula that they can sell to parents and schools looking to give children a leg up in China's highly competitive education system.

New Factory recently raised several million yuan (over half a million dollars) from angel investors. It plans to use the funds to hold more of its signature ''Get Maker'' publicity events, and to develop STEAM education apps.

Investment in STEAM has flourished over the past few years. According to a report on spending for children's education in 2018, from January to November of that year, investment in China's STEAM sector exceeded that for English education by a wide margin.

Most Chinese STEAM education providers operate in large cities. New Factory, by contrast, began in smaller regional cities.

The company hopes to build up an "ecosystem" in STEAM education, by attracting more customers through its offline events. CEO Zhang Jianjun is said to have learned from Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi's business model. New Factory is also looking for partners to develop software, hardware and lessons.

Besides demanding STEAM education, parents in regional cities want value for money and efficient use of their children's study time. The company got its start with paper airplanes, using them as fun way to introduce kids to STEAM subjects. For customers outside big cities, they are an ideal entry point to STEAM education. Offline events -- paper airplane making contests and the Get Maker shows -- are another way that New Factory grabs customer attention.

The company launched Get Maker in 2017. Similar events have their origin in ''Maker Faire'' -- global events that fuse technology and manufacturing and are largely aimed at companies. Get Maker, by contrast, targets kindergarten and primary school-age children. At these event, parents and children experience get hands-on science and technology experiences and the chance to try STEAM education services. At the 2019 Get Maker event, more than 50,000 people took part. The company recorded on site sales of more than 10 million yuan ($1.4 million) at the event.

New Factory expects its user base to reach 150,000 to 200,000 people this year. To attract customers and generate royalties, it has signed contracts with well-known STEAM instructors, and will hold promotions such free lessons and low-cost packages. The company is working to build its library of content by offering a platform through which outside instructors can sell their own lessons.

In March the company plans to offer a tool for instruction in artificial intelligence. The product will include software, hardware, lessons and support for vendors that cannot develop STEAM lessons on their own.

New Factory Maker earns most of its profit from sales at offline events, including admission fees. The company says it wants to move toward a free-admission model, with a set percentage of revenue coming from sales of education services.

In China STEAM lessons have yet to catch on in the regular school curriculum. Contents consists largely of robotics, computer programming and 3D printing. Investment in STEAM education grew sharply in 2018, but was flat last year.

China's leader in the STEAM education sector is Last May, the company completed its Series C+ round of fundraising. The company is said to have more than 200,000 daily active users of its online study platform. Makeblock, another major player in the sector, is reported to have emphasized curriculum research and development, and acquired numerous school clients in 2019.

STEAM education in China has developed rapidly and future market growth will depend on how quickly it gains broad acceptance. In the past few years many STEAM education companies have appeared. Other that have recently raised funds include Wklstem and Matatalab.

36Kr, a Chinese tech news portal founded in Beijing in 2010, has more than 150 million readers worldwide. Nikkei announced a partnership with 36Kr on May 22, 2019.

For the Japanese version of this story, click here.

For the Chinese version, click here.

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