Taking textbooks to the world

UWA graduate and Rhodes scholar David Sherwood says he’s always had a strong social conscience.

“With parents who worked in mental health and Indigenous affairs, it’s probably something that’s a bit inbuilt,” the now London-based alumnus says with a grin.

That conscience comes with a strong dose of entrepreneurial smarts and the ability to not just step but high jump outside the proverbial square, as shown by the success of e-textbook platform Bibliotech, the company he co-founded with fellow UWA alumni Daniel Engelke and Tao Mantaras.

Now in its fourth year, the sophisticated tech start-up has just successfully raised more than $4 million from investors to expand its London and Chicago operations.

Bibliotech serves more than 22 institutional clients including the Universities of Oxford, Bath and Manchester and works with more than 2000 publishers, among them Pearson and McGraw Hill.

“Our platform gives students and institutions instant online access to course materials in an affordable, flexible way,” David explains.

It also incorporates tools to accelerate learning – for example the capability to suggest parts of books relevant to a topic – just like the entertainment streaming platforms that provide personalisation and suggestions for users.

“I think our investors are responding to all of that.”

Doug cycling inline 1                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Happy days. The Bibliotech team takes to the streets of London to celebrate their capital raising. 

Leading the investment round is the family office of ex co-founder and CEO of indeed.com, Paul Forster, as well as ex co-founder and CEO of Qunar, Fritz Demopoulos. Oxford University’s Innovation Fund and VC Fund Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI) have also increased their investment.

Bunbury-born David says the asset raising and “deep expertise” of investors will allow Bibliotech to reach an extended international audience.

“We’re currently running at a 100 per cent renewal rate amongst our University clients and we’re constantly innovating to keep it that way, while giving our student users more of what they want to improve their experience of higher education,” he says.

Paul Forster adds Bibliotech is bringing digital textbooks “out of the dark ages”.

“By breaking down the walls around publishers and individual textbooks, the company is giving students and teachers a superior learning experience,” he says.

David, who dropped out of his fully funded Politics, Philosophy and Economics degree during his second year at Oxford to start Bibliotech, says he’s still involved with not-for-profit organisation Teach Learn Grow Inc that he co-founded back in Perth, albeit from a distance.

“I’m still on the board and I have a great interest of following what’s going on; they’re doing an amazing job,” he says of the volunteer group which sends university students to primary schools in remote and regional areas to help boost literacy and maths skills.

Doug cycling inline 1                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Team photo (L-R): Matt Arnold (Oxford Sciences Innovation - Investor), Daniel Hunt (UWA), Daniel Engelke (Co-founder and UWA grad), David Sherwood, Ellis Gecan (Co-founder and UWA grad), Alex Withington-Smith, Tao Mantaras (Co-founder and UWA grad), Sara Schumann, Umberto Anderle (UWA grad), Raja Sharma and Mark Anderson (Chair). 

He and the leadership team at Bibliotech, many of whom are former graduates, are also engaged with UWA in another area – as an employer.

“Almost all of our software team are UWA alumni,” he laughs. “Hiring software engineers in London is really difficult, there’s just not a lot of talent here.

“The quality of the UWA grads is outstanding – their intelligence and their willingness to work hard is second to none and they seem to pick everything up so quickly, even if their backgrounds are not straight computer science.”