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CamBioScience secures £1.1m investment to scale-up AI-enhanced e-learning platform OBRIZUM


By Paul Brackley


Was your last e-learning experience a success, or did it leave you cold?

The CamBioScience team at Barclays Eagle Labs including, seated, from left CEO Dr Chibeza Agley and chief marketing officer Dr Sarra Achouri. Picture: Keith Heppell
The CamBioScience team at Barclays Eagle Labs including, seated, from left CEO Dr Chibeza Agley and chief marketing officer Dr Sarra Achouri. Picture: Keith Heppell

While they have promised to revolutionise the way companies train their employees – cutting costs and offering flexibility – e-learning programmes have not always hit the mark. Complaints that they are impersonal and frequently irrelevant abound among those subjected to the less successful packages, while managers are often left scratching their heads when assessing the success of the programmes.

Step forward CamBioScience.

The Cambridge company, known to many for its life science courses and conferences, is applying artificial intelligence to e-learning.

It has just secured £1.1million from investors to scale up its OBRIZUM platform, which promises to personalise the learning experience for users and provide real-time analytical reports.

Dr Chibeza Agley, chief executive officer, tells the Cambridge Independent: “We want to reinvent conventional e-learning entirely. We’re taking a fresh view.

“We realised that the reason it was there in the first place was because it was so easy to deliver things via the internet. But the basic e-learning delivered by some of the larger suppliers was so linear and straightforward.

“They weren’t really engaging any users, or giving anyone anything really useful, and the data was being lost from the experience.

“We wanted to sit down with scientists and software engineers and think about what e-learning would look like if we designed it from scratch, and how it would reflect the way we have learned.

“All the founders have completed PhDs in life science-based subjects, so we all had experience in learning new things, which we brought to the table.”

Creating an inter-disciplinary team, CamBioScience created OBRIZUM, which can be applied to all sectors.

“Our platform automates, personalises and analyses e-learning,” says Dr Agley.

“We want to be able to create e-learning courses faster than ever before. We know that fields are changing very rapidly and it’s difficult for people to keep up. Even for the big education providers, it’s very difficult to stay on top of new knowledge and information that seemingly changes on a week-to-week basis. We wanted a platform capable of keeping pace with that rapid change.

“We’ve developed technology that allows the construction of courses to be automated from any content base.

“If an individual identifies content that they think would be useful for a course, they can simply drag and drop that into the platform. Then our platform will do something we call contextualisation.

“It goes into the content, understands its nature, what it’s about, the themes and the concepts that make it up and places it into a multi-dimensional network.

“That allows us to create a connected space of content and no human has had to tell it that A is linked to B, and this comes before that. Curricular design is done almost entirely automatically.

“Then an individual can come into the platform and start learning about the content they are interested in. We are big supporters of non-linear learning – individuals following their natural instincts about what they want to start with. Much as we learn language from our mothers by random exposure, in this case you can jump in and follow your interests.”

CamBioScience CEO Dr Chibeza Agley at Barclays Eagle Labs. Picture: Keith Heppell
CamBioScience CEO Dr Chibeza Agley at Barclays Eagle Labs. Picture: Keith Heppell

Artificial intelligence is applied to guide the user through nodes of course content, by assessing their understanding of what they have done so far and their interests.

“That’s done in a sensitive way through active and passive assessments,” says Dr Agley. “You are asked questions about the content, but not in the usual format. It asks you to indicate how sure you are about the answers you put forward. It changes the game. It’s almost like gambling on your knowledge.

“What that allows us to do is fully understand whether someone really knows their stuff or whether they are guessing. The algorithms can then send them to a track that suits their level, rather than what would be best for a group as a whole.”

While the user enjoys a more personalised experience to suit them, the software is also gathering data for analysis.

“As you are creating these courses and people learn about different nodes of content, you are starting to understand about fields as a whole, what populations of people do and don’t understand, and what is confusing to them,” says Dr Agley.

“All of that data is really valuable if you’re the manager of a large organisation and you want to see which teams are proficient in which concepts. It can help you to form teams for the future and drive up profitability as you’ll understand who to put in particular positions, and who really understands the products and services you are selling.”

What makes OBRIZUM attractive to those already operating e-learning packages is that it can apply its AI box of tricks to existing content.

“When we began we were often asked if we were a technology company or a content company,” says Dr Agley. “We were looking for the most scalable, which initially meant focusing on the technology and allowing companies to leverage content they already had.

“All the big professional services companies, finance companies and banks have loads of content, which ends up sitting on someone’s hard drive, which isn’t being leveraged properly, even though it’s fantastic informational resources.

“Through OBRIZUM, they can use the platform for better organising and managing that content, repurposing it in an e-learning setting. It’s reusing and recycling it.”

In its research and development pipeline is proprietary technology that will help ensure companies’ existing e-learning material is AI-enabled.

“You don’t necessarily want to sit through two hours of videos before something else is suggested. So we’ve got ways of making content bite-sized so it can be enabled for machine learning,” notes Dr Agley.

For those without suitable packages of their own, the CamBioScience team has also added content provision to its offer.

“If your content is insufficient or outdated or not correct for what you want to train people on, you do need premium quality content, so we decided to take the leap ourselves and created our own in-house content media agency, called OBRIZUMEDIA.

“This is for large companies who want beautifully presented, exciting, engaging content in addition to any they have in-house,” explains Dr Agley.

The film and media arm of the company is headed up by film-maker Oscar Forshaw-Swift, whose earlier work has won prizes from UNICEF.

“He is bringing film-making practices to e-learning and he’s done some fantastic work for some of the larger providers out there,” says
Dr Agley.

Having secured around £1.1million in a funding round led by London-based early stage investment house, Beaubridge (UK) Ltd, CamBioScience will now add to its team and commercialise its platform.

“We’ve built a lot of this platform with quite a small software engineering team. We’re using this to expand the team and bring in some support for them,” explains Dr Agley.

“We need to bring in engineers who will cover the full spectrum, from AI to infrastructure and cloud architecture, so we’re able to professionalise our tech pipeline.”

In the short-term, he anticipates expanding the 16 full-time staff to 20, adding further software, marketing and finance skills.

“We want to focus on being the first proper e-learning tech company that focuses on the technology underpinning it. It’s a smash and grab so far. It’s actually quite shocking what is out there.

“There is definitely a gap for a major technology player to come on and disrupt. That’s what we are aiming at,” he says.

OBRIZUM software from CamBioScience. Picture: Keith Heppell
OBRIZUM software from CamBioScience. Picture: Keith Heppell

The target market is broad, from finance to life science.

“It could be all sorts of companies,” he says. “For us, the larger the better – we are interested in working with people with the biggest problems, who have 70,000 employees. How do you get all of them trained? Only through e-learning, so we feel we can bring the largest value there.

“The co-founders have a background in life sciences but through OBRIZUM we can target almost all large industries.”

The classroom courses that CamBioScience has built its reputation on – both here and in Asia – will run alongside the software development.

“What was fantastic for us as a business model was to start with courses and conferences, which enabled us to connect to big industry players and get the voice of the customer and what they needed. It was fantastic for informing the software,” says Dr Agley.

“The software is our major focus, but the in-person courses are a great way for us to connect with real customers and test things out, so we’ll continue to do that.”

And as CamBioScience explores the use of virtual reality and, beyond that, augmented reality, the in-person courses could also provide a useful testbed.

“Ultimately, we want to get our software as close to learning in the real world as possible. We’re building some great technology,” promises Dr Agley.

“We have a particular take on using VR in a tractable way at the moment. AR will be the next step and I think that will come when we perhaps secure more funding down the line...”

Visit cambioscience.com, obrizum.com and beaubridge.com.

Launched with £500 from each founder

From left, the CamBioScience co-founder CEO Dr Chibeza Agley, chief marketing officer Dr Sarra Achouri and chief operating officer Dr Jürgen Fink. Picture: Keith Heppell
From left, the CamBioScience co-founder CEO Dr Chibeza Agley, chief marketing officer Dr Sarra Achouri and chief operating officer Dr Jürgen Fink. Picture: Keith Heppell

CamBioScience was established in July 2015 by three founders who chipped in £500 each to set up a company connecting life science and academia through training courses.

“We were all scientists working in the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute,” explains CEO Dr Chibeza Agley, whose research combined the fields of stem cell biology, physics and bioengineering.

“We were a little bit frustrated by the state of academia at the time but we also saw huge monumental changes in a few of the technology fields that we were working in,”

“Undergraduate degrees and masters degrees were missing big chunks of this revolutionary information. We felt this had to change and we had to do something about this. We founded the business to package up short courses focusing on emerging technologies to fill that gap.

“To our surprise it was such a big hit. There was the real need for education at that level.

“It was true that the fields were moving faster than the conventional education system was able to keep pace with. Once we learned that, it was a natural progression of building a business model that enabled us to self-fund it, which we have done until now.”

Dr Agley’s fellow co-founders are chief marketing officer Dr Sarra Achouri, who studied for her physics PhD at the Cavendish Laboratory and was a next generation fellow at the Centre for Trophoblast Research, both at the University of Cambridge, and chief operating officer Dr Jürgen Fink, who holds a PhD in stem cell biology from Cambridge.

“As founders, we put in £500 each and started generating revenue very quickly.

“We reinvested absolutely everything. We didn’t take a salary but everything back in to bolster the business, until we started raising investment in 2018,” says Dr Agley.

The trio have been full-time for a year, having resigned from the Stem Cell Institute to focus on the business, although Dr Agley remains a research fellow at Homerton College.

“They’ve been fantastically supportive as we’ve gone on and built the business. It is a great college - very forward-thinking and focused on life sciences and entrepreneurship. They are focused on being a change-maker in society. I was really lucky to be so supported,” he says.

The company has been growing from its base at Barclays Eagle Labs in Chesterton Road, Cambridge.

“We are soon likely to be the next successful exit from Barclays Eagle Labs, which is their point really as they take early stage companies and grow them. We are bursting at the seams now.”

Business model is pure gold

While the focus of CamBioScience is now firmly on its OBRIZUM software for multiple sectors, its original name will be retained for now.

“CamBioScience has become a well-known brand now, not just here but in Asia, where we’ve done a lot of our programmes,” explains Dr Agley.

“OBRIZUM means pure gold in Latin, but it became synonymous with assessment in Roman times, because it is the way they used to assess gold by repeatedly putting it into flame, to discern it from lessen metals.

“Essentially, what we do with our AI is repeatedly assess through challenges, which is how it is able to collect the information it needs to decide where people should go next, so OBRIZUM is a very fitting name for the platform.

“So that brand will come forward as we grow. We have global trademarks on that and will become the brand for the technology platform.

“CamBioScience is the name for the underlying business, and we have such strategic advantage in the life science and healthcare markets.

“Our chairman, Prof Hugh Montgomery, is one of the leading life scientists and consultant medics in the UK. We have access to a market we know very well.

“So it makes sense to bring OBRIZUM into that market and continue the success of the courses and conferences that CamBioScience has focused on.”

Investors say company is leading edtech field

CamBioScience’s new investors say the company is leading the way in the emerging field of edtech.

Independently-owned early-stage investor Beaubridge (UK) Ltd, which leads the £1.1million funding round, has so far focused on financial services, aesthetics and education.

It joins Cambridge Capital Group, Angels in MedCity, Henley’s Business Angels and private investors from the UK, Dubai, and Germany in supporting CamBioScience.

“Beaubridge is very excited to be working with the extremely talented and driven CamBioScience team,” says Derk Ohler, investment director at Beaubridge (UK), who is joining CamBioScience’s board of directors.

“We are confident that OBRIZUM's unique AI-enhanced e-learning platform will transform corporate education and disrupt the wider education market.

“This is an exciting time to be investing in ed-tech and CamBioScience is at the forefront of this industry.

“Businesses and individuals need to evolve from traditional static training processes to life- long learning. It is not an option but a requirement.

“We are investing in OBRIZUM because it is helping professionals and businesses meet this necessity.”

Announcing the investment, CEO Dr Chibeza Agley says: “OBRIZUM transforms e-learning into AI-learning and takes personalised learning to another level. This latest financing from Beaubridge will help us realise OBRIZUM’s full global potential and bring powerful learning and training benefits to business and individuals alike - just when they need it most.”

Visit cambioscience.com, obrizum.com and beaubridge.com.

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