Making It Work: Platform to make studying for professional exams less taxing

Dublin-based Examfly is initially targeting professionals undertaking tax exams with its product, but there is plenty of scope for expansion

21st February, 2021
Making It Work: Platform to make studying for professional exams less taxing
Deirdre Lyons, founder of Examfly: ‘The idea is to give people a fun, visual and engaging way to help them get to grips with difficult concepts.’ Picture: Fergal Phillips

A newly closed €600,000 seed funding round will allow Examfly to hire a new tech lead and build new features for the learning platform it is developing for professionals undertaking tax exams.

The Dublin-based edtech start-up, founded by Deirdre Lyons in January 2019, has signed up two early-stage customers in Ireland, including an educational body and a professional services firm.

Lyons said the contracts would help the start-up to validate its technology and chart the course for future product development.

“These new client wins are a really big milestone for us,” the chief executive said.

“We’re at the stage now where we’ve achieved the product/market fit, but we have much more ambitious plans.

“We want to learn as much as possible from these customers. That will allow us to improve the sophistication of our platform, introduce new modules and, hopefully, open doors to faster expansion into international markets.”

As Lyons sees it, the global edtech market is ripe for disruption. “It’s really only in its infancy in terms of just how much technology could potentially improve the learning journey,” she said.

“Our focus right now at Examfly is on professional tax exams, but what we’re doing could, in theory, be applied to any domain where learning relies on skill acquisition as opposed to rote learning. There’s a lot of opportunity there.”

Lyons is focusing on tax exams for now because it is an area she is especially familiar with. The 36-year-old, from Ballingarry in Co Limerick, studied law at University College Cork before going on to qualify as a chartered tax advisor with PwC.

From there, she moved to Davy, the Irish stockbroking firm, where she worked in wealth management, but her experience qualifying as a chartered tax advisor prompted Lyons to strike out on her own, setting up Examfly just over two years ago.

“I was good at studying at school and in college, so I was surprised by how difficult I found it studying for my professional exams,” she said.

“Eventually, I came up with an approach that worked for me and started lecturing part-time for the Irish Tax Institute.

“It never leaves you though, just how difficult these exams can be. You’re working full-time and then trying to get your head into books and lectures. It’s a very passive way of learning. Yet, you need to be able to apply what you’re learning in a very real and practical way, in your day-to-day work.”

In response, Lyons turned to educational psychology and technologies such as gamification and data analytics to develop with what she calls an “active learning” platform.

Examfly incorporates animated explainer videos and other visual learning tools, such as decision trees, mind-maps and customised flashcards for revision, alongside a self-assessment tool designed to help users gauge how best to use their study time.

“The idea is to give people a fun, visual and engaging way to help them get to grips with difficult concepts,” Lyons said.

“We have a range of novel interactive tools, which allow them to apply their knowledge and we overlay that with data analytics and gamification.

“On an individual level, that helps people to identify their areas of weakness and work out what they might need to spend more time on.

“As we gain more users and collate more and more data, we will have scope to analyse common problems across the board and then build solutions into our own platform in the future.”

Examfly topped the Best New Start category at the Dublin regional final of the InterTradeIreland Seedcorn Investor Readiness Competition last year.

The start-up is backed by the Bolton Trust and Enterprise Ireland. It had benefited at an early stage from the Competitive Start Fund (CSF) operated by the state agency, Lyons said.

“The CSF support was a real turning point for the company. It allowed us to refine our product and gave us the time to research and develop the market,” she said.

This year’s €1 million CSF is now open for applications. Early-stage companies from all sectors with an eligible innovative product or service and plans for global expansion are encouraged to enter the competition.

Successful projects can secure up to €50,000 in equity funding. Applications will be accepted up to 3pm on Tuesday, March 2.

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