MEIF - Proof of Concept

Students raise £800k for platform that automates exam marking

Three University of Birmingham students who developed a software platform that cuts the time taken by teachers to mark maths and science papers have raised £800,000 to help them commercialise the system.

The funding has come from the MEIF Proof of Concept & Early Stage Fund, which is managed by Mercia and part of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund, Mercia’s EIS funds and capital from angel investors.

Graide, as the platform is known, arose from a PhD thesis written by Robert Stanyon. He and his co-developers, Manjinder Kainth and George Bartlett, recognised the need for the system while working as teaching assistants during their post-graduate studies.

Graide is aimed at higher education institutions and can be used to mark both coursework and exam papers for ‘STEM’ subjects. It can not only assess the final answers, but also a student’s workings. The system, which incorporates artificial intelligence, learns an assessor’s marking style so they do not have to grade the same answer twice. As the assessor works through the paper, Graide automates more and more of the feedback.

The team estimates that the system can reduce grading times by an average of 89 per cent while giving students seven times as much feedback. Graide is already being piloted at six universities in the UK.

The developers set up a company to commercialise the software. 6 Bit Education is based at the Birmingham Research Park on the University of Birmingham campus. The funding will enable it to build its team, creating two new jobs, and adding new features to the platform.

As part of the investment, Mercia has introduced two EdTech specialists from its Non-executive Director Network. Andrew Doyle has been appointed as Chair while Tony Austwick joins as an adviser.  Both have significant experience in early and growth stage technology companies, and the education sector.

Manjinder Kainth, CEO of 6 Bit Education, said:

“Providing high quality feedback is essential for students, but it is time-consuming to deliver and can be plagued by inconsistencies. Graide addresses this challenge. This investment will accelerate our traction by increasing the size of our commercial team. It will also fund some exciting features on the product roadmap that could see Graide extend from science and maths departments to roll out across the whole campus.”

Kiran Mehta, Investment Manager at Mercia, said:

“Manjinder and the team have done an excellent job building a product that increases staff efficiency while generating a strong sales pipeline at home and carrying out early market exploration in the US. It’s been a pleasure supporting the team to bring in this significant investment and to enhance the strategic direction of the business. I look forward to working with the enlarged 6 Bit team on the next stage of their growth journey.”

Mark Wilcockson, Senior Investment Manager at the British Business Bank, said:

“The MEIF is here to support innovative businesses expand and grow. With this latest funding round, 6 bit will be able to introduce its automated marking software into more UK universities, as well as expand into overseas markets. We encourage other tech companies in the Midlands to consider MEIF funding to support their business growth plans.”

Anita Bhalla, Interim Chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) said:

Seeing digital technology businesses like 6 Bit secure funding reinforces how digitisation can create solutions and efficiency in business processes. This MEIF funding will support 6 Bit in growing its team and increasing their budget as their product is rolled out to more universities across the country. Allowing businesses to unlock their potential like this is critical to GBSLEP’s mission of driving inclusive economic growth.”

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund and Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund projects are supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.