Campus - 14.09.2022 - 00:00 

Startup with HSG background declares war on teacher shortage

The shortage of teachers is acute in Switzerland. Now, a startup with an HSG background wants to make it easier to find jobs between teachers and school administrators.

14 September 2022. The media outcry started shortly before the 2022 summer vacation: Switzerland was short teachers.  "I'm also worried as a mother," Dagmar Rösler, central president of the umbrella organization Teachers Switzerland, told the media as recently as early August. "For us as a startup, in the education sector, this was an ideal moment to bring our solution to market," said Samuel Thalmann, co-founder of the Epalero platform and HSG graduate. Epalero connects teachers throughout Switzerland with schools that have open substitute positions to fill. When teachers are absent - due to illness, for example - the situation for schools becomes even more difficult: filling substitutes at short notice is another challenge in the dried-up job market.

Epalero therefore wants to "fundamentally simplify" the way schools and teachers find each other, according to the startup's website. Teachers can create a profile on Epalero and indicate, among other things, at which level, in which region and when they are available. They then receive regular notifications of open positions, to which they can apply with just a few clicks. This automatically sends all the teacher's documents to schools needing support. "Ideally, all that is then needed is a phone call to clarify final details," says Thalmann. "It's true that similar platforms already exist today and they are mostly operated by individual cantons. Often, only open substitutes for a canton are posted there, or according to various users, the platforms themselves are sometimes not very user-friendly."

LinkedIn for teachers and schools?

Since its launch in June, the number of Epalero users has risen to more than 1,500 teachers and over 160 schools throughout Switzerland - the Handelszeitung recently described the start-up as "LinkedIn for teachers and schools". At the moment, only substitutes are advertised, but starting in 2023 Epalero hopes to promote permanent positions. The service is free of charge. "How we want to become profitable in the long term is currently under development. It is conceivable, for example, that the platform will cost something for the schools or, what we would prefer, that we generate revenue by expanding the range of services," says Thalmann. Currently, the startup exists on of heart and soul. The Epalero business model could still evolve in many different directions.

Thalmann and co-founder Alicia Rüegg, a trained secondary school teacher and software developer, are also supported by Hans Peter Rüegg (long-time school principal), Ilaria Stendahl (UX designer) and Melanie Hasler (social media expert). The fact that part of the team comes from the education sector is essential, says Thalmann: "We've also always sought feedback on our ideas from teachers and school administrators right from the start." Even now, the young company encourages its users to contribute suggestions on how to continuously improve the platform.

Friends from HSG encouraged starting a startup

Thalmann studied banking and finance at HSG. "Not a classic startup subject, yet I always felt entrepreneurship was very present in HSG teaching," says the native of Aargau. He also says he has friends from his student days who work in startups and encouraged him to start his own. After graduation, Thalmann worked in corporate transactions, gaining insight into the business of recruiters. "At the same time, we heard from principals and teachers that job placement in the school environment was often complicated. With Alicia trained as a secondary teacher and software developer, the team was perfect." From this came the business idea that Thalmann and his co-founder Alicia Rüegg refined. In the summer of 2022, they had planned to take a year-long trip around the world. "Then, when the shortage of teachers became a big issue, we cancelled those plans," Thalmann says, laughing.


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