Edtech startups in Africa raised $24.6 million or 0.7% of Africa’s total funding in 2022, according to data from Disrupt Africa. It represented a 69.6% decline from 2021’s highs. This decline in funding to digital learning underscores one aspect of the challenge of delivering education with technology even as digitalisation spreads its wings across Africa.
Regardless of the paucity of funding going into edtech in Africa, the firms building out digital learning platforms are doubling down and the understanding of the space is maturing to include more than mobile learning software. Things are looking up too. In February, Africa’s largest innovation hub chain, Co-Creation Hub (CcHUB), announced a $15 million ed-tech accelerator programme. The Edtech Fellowship Programme, promises to invest in up to 72 startups in Nigeria and Kenya over the next three years.
So here’s a quick refresher on (a selection) of startups playing in the space and what they are up to.
uLesson: the long road to building a consumer-facing service platform
Founded in 2019 by Sim Shagaya, the Nigerian media and technology entrepreneur (who founded and sold, Konga, a Nigerian e-commerce platform), the young company rapidly grew in popularity, buoyed by $3.1 million in seed funding led by TLcom Capital. Further to this, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown of schools in Nigeria was a welcome tailwind for the young company, allowing it to set its sight on expansion into Ghana and South Africa. In 2021, it closed $7.5 million in Series A, quickly followed by a $15 million Series B round to fuel its expansion plans.
The COVID tailwind was so strong that uLesson onboarded users from Uganda, even though the company had not commenced operations there. “For reasons that we’re starting to understand, that nation really loves uLesson,” Shagaya said. In South Africa he said uLesson has “seen some good traction, even though it hadn’t launched its localised curriculum.
Sim Sagaya is bullish on his company’s prospects. In October 2022, he told TechCabal over a call that his company spends less on marketing than they did a year earlier because existing users referred new customers. “Ten to 15 years ago you started to see the private sector play a very big role in education,” Shagaya said, noting that “while [the] government will continue to play a role [in primary education], the private sector is going to play the leading role… Technology and media, combined with academics, is going to play a particularly big role,” he said.
Shagaya has taken his words to heart. uLesson is expanding beyond primary education with a tertiary education product called Miva University. Two weeks ago, he shared a LinkedIn post advertising roles for Miva University that included a vice-chancellorship, and tertiary education instructors who would create learning content for “the tertiary education arm of the uLesson Group”.
Edukoya: learning + financial education for kids
In 2021, Edukoya raised $3.5 million in a pre-seed round led by Target Global to make high-quality education accessible to young learners. Founded by Honey Ogundeyi, the founding country director for UK-Nigeria Tech Hub and former Google Nigeria leader, Edukoya offered a fully online and self-paced learning model. But the platform, which targets Nigerian secondary school learners also includes live homework tutorials and help, and personalised performance tracking.
In 2022, Edukoya employees told TechCabal that the firm fired most of its workforce amidst plans to build a new fintech service. The company denied the claims, explaining that it only fired four employees following a quarterly employee performance review. In an email response to TechCabal, Edukoya said that while it had “optimised” its teams, it was still hiring new workers and said it had hired a senior executive from Byju’s, a Bangalore-headquartered edtech.
Byju’s is India’s highest-valued startup. But the $22 billion (value from the last round of funding) company had a tough year in 2022, arising from controversies over unpaid loans, poor corporate governance, company financials and layoffs. There is nothing online about KoyaKids, which former Edukoya employees claim was an internal fintech-cum-financial education platform for children. But Edukoya continues to grow its primary edtech offering and is advertising new roles within the company.
AltSchool Africa: the pivot-to-tech online school
Founded in October 2021 as a subsidiary of TalentQL, a tech talent outsourcing company, AltSchool Africa trains software engineers, product developers and data analysts in a cohort-based 12-month program.
In February 2022, AltSchool Africa announced that it had raised $1 million in pre-seed funding.
Initially, the edtech operated an income-sharing-agreement (ISA) business model that allowed learners to learn for free and pay the $500 tuition(in full or instalments—$50 over 10 months or $100 over five months)—when they got hired. Now, AltSchool learners have to pay upfront in a subscription-based model that charges $290 yearly, $80 quarterly, or $30 monthly.
Orcas: a marketplace for tutors
Orcas was founded in 2014 as an online marketplace for tutors and babysitters. The Cairo-based company allowed parents to search, book, and manage tutors, babysitters, and language instructors from a mobile app. Payments could be made directly through the app or by scheduling physical cash payments.
“At Orcas, we started out with language learning only. Soon, we realised the need to expand to 1-on-1 tutoring in all subjects, both online and in-person. When COVID-19 hit, we adapted by adding interactive 1-to-many online courses which grew our user base by 5x in just one school year,” Co-founder and CEO, Hossam Taher, wrote on LinkedIn in 2021. Now the platform has moved from its tutor marketplace roots to a learning platform that offers both teacher-led and self-paced learning.
Further modifications to its operating model have seen Orcas move to allow learners to complete a trial session with a tutor before deciding on the most suitable learning plan for them, how frequently they prefer to learn and for how long, and to select from a range of subscription prices. Amira el Gharib, co-founder and COO of Orcas, explains that this model means that “Learners can sign up for an entire school year, or enjoy semester-long or exams-period subscriptions, all while having different instalment plans to facilitate payment.”
According to Crunchbase, Orcas has raised $3.8 million in funding over six rounds, with the latest being a $2.1 million seed round announced in January 2021. The company has expanded to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Foondamate: WhatsApp for e-learning
South Africa’s Foondamate brings online learning closer and in multiple languages through low-data instant messaging applications like WhatsApp and Facebook. Foondamate’s WhatsApp and Facebook chatbot delivers learning resources, textbooks, etc directly to learners, helping students who do not have access to quality resources access up-to-date material.
Before ChatGPT there was Foondamate—at least in South Africa and now Nigeria. TechCabal’s Ngozi Chukwu described how the chatbot works thus. “A user can ask questions like “What is photosynthesis?” and get the answer in the chat. When preparing for specific exams, the user can request past examination papers, such as “WAEC biology 2013”. The bot will reply in the chat with a PDF file of the requested past examination, which the user can download or share with others.” Read her complete story below.
Since its founding in 2020, Foondamate has secured $2 million in seed funding and operates in Nigeria and South Africa.