TechInAfrica — Sim Shagaya, a Nigerian founder, comes back with a brand new startup, uLesson, that has recently secured a $3.1-million seed round led by TLcom Capital.
The startup integrates mobile platforms, SD cards, culture-specific curriculum, and a network of tutors to bridge educational gaps for secondary school students in Nigeria and broader Africa.
Shagaya, who also founded Nigerian e-commerce startup Konga and ads venture E-Motion, founded the startup in 2019. The company is headquartered in Lagos with a production studio in Jos.
Shagaya said that the startup has been in the development phase and plans to launch to market in February 2020 in Nigeria, including Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Gambia.
“We’re targeting Anglophone West Africa…for a market of effectively 300 million people,” he said.
Regarding the product demand, Shagaya sees the priority placed on education across West African households compared to structural deficiencies, such as student-teacher ratios as high as 70:1 in countries similar to Nigeria.
“We have this massive gap…We’re adding more babies in this country nominally than all of Western Europe…Even if the [Nigerian] government was super efficient, it couldn’t catch up with the educational needs of the young people that are coming up,” Shagaya said.
Addressing this problem, uLesson will offer an app-based home education kit for students with an advance yearly subscription price of around $70 and the option to pay as you go. The startup’s product pack will contain a dongle, SD card, and a set of headphones to connect to Android devices.
According to Shagaya, Curriculum on the uLesson program will include practice tests and tailored content around math, physics, chemistry, and biology. The venture has already created 3000 animated videos for core subjects.
To advantage high android mobile penetration in Africa and minimize data-streaming costs, uLesson content and performance assessment will come through a combination of streaming and SD cards.
Parents and students can connect online temporarily to update the app and sync curriculum along with the results while operating off-line for the bulk of lessons.
Shagaya compared the use of SD cards to the previous Netflix model (sending and returning DVDs by mail), before the faster and more affordable internet service in the US.
The uLesson program will also package a human component. The startup plans to deploy a network of counselors in major distribution areas to instruct on how to use the app and follow lesson plans.
He explained that uLesson is a supplement to secondary school education and a more affordable and effective alternative to private tutors.
After taking uLesson to market in Nigeria and other countries in the region, Shagaya and the team plan to adapt the product for a future East Africa launch. In Nigeria and Kenya, uLesson will face competition from established startups. Edtech in Africa doesn’t have as many companies as leading startup sectors (fintech and e-commerce), but there are a number of players, such as Tuteria.
He also confirmed that he’s redirected some of that windfall into uLesson’s $3.1 million seed round. Sum confirmed, as part of TLcom’s lead on the investment, partners Omobola Johnson and Ido Sum will join uLesson’s board.
On the company’s for-profit status of his new startup, Shagaya notes that it carries greater meaning for him than past commercial experiences.
“If you drill down to it all, all our problems in Africa are tied to this problem of education…If we do this right, our impact will be huge. For me this is probably the most important work I’ll do,” he said.