African Ed-Tech Incubator’s First Class of Companies Step Into Market

Managing Editor

An organization billing itself as Africa’s first ed-tech incubator has named a group of eight companies to receive its initial support, betting that the businesses can find viable markets and do their part to transform learning on the continent.

Injini, an incubator based in South Africa, selected companies working in areas that include language-development, data-management, offline learning, and reading development.

The incubator is a partnership between Jamie Martin, who once served as an advisor to British education chief Michael Gove, and the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative, a longtime African incubator.

Each of the eight companies, most of them early-stage, will receive the equivalent of $40,000, U.S., as well as extensive mentoring, support, and promotion through the incubator program.

That support will include tech development, data analysis, a travel budget, and help showcasing their products, explained Martin, Injini’s CEO, in an interview.

Initially, the companies are likely to look to target buyers in schools and school systems and households throughout Africa, Martin said. He sees viable markets in a number of countries, based on those nations’ growth, their overall economic strength, their receptiveness to technology and ed-tech, and a “willingness by parents to spend on education.” Those emerging hubs include Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

There were more than 170 applicants for the Injini incubator program, from 16 different countries in Africa. Fourteen finalists were named, and eight ed-tech providers were chosen.

Members of the first cohort are Earlybird, Uthini, Zelda, and Syafunda, all from South Africa; Mtabe, of Tanzania; Yo’ Books, of South Sudan; Accelerated, of Ethiopia; and M-Shule, of Kenya. (The video, above, describes the incubator and the companies funded through it.)

“We deliberately picked a cohort with variety,” Martin said. “We think there’s strength in variety.”

No Internet, No Problem?

Many of the ed-tech products put forward are best-suited for developing markets, Martin said, where schools and families may not have broad access to basic technology or money to buy it.

Uthini, for instance, provides 15-minute, tutored language lessons in Zulu and Xhosa via phone messaging. Tutors are native speakers, the company says, and lessons are loaded with voice-notes, images, texts, and GIFs.

“Life is busy,” Uthini’s site explains, and “messaging lets you connect wherever you are at a time convenient for you. For example, how many times have you looked at your phone so far today?”

Another company in the cohort, Mtabe, promises to use messaging technology to deliver learning content to students who can’t afford textbooks, and do not have internet access. The company describes its goal as providing “instant, curriculum-aligned answers using a chat-based search engine that works online and offline.”

“Out of 10 people in Africa, only three have Internet access,” Mtabe says. “We focus on the seven…an average African student does not need to master a new technology or get a new device to start using Mtabe.”

A third business in the cohort, Syafunda, is a learning and data-management platform that weaves “best teaching practices on video, audio and e-books into the school system through a wireless digital library for high school students in a South African context in alignment with the South African curriculum.”

While the products being rolled out may have the most traction in the short term in non-industrialized countries, that doesn’t mean they can’t make it in wealthier countries, too, Martin said.

“Things that start out solving problems in developing markets can end up solving problems in developed markets, too,” argued Martin, who sees “huge untapped potential” in the products.

Others may see potential for financial returns. Martin says that since the cohort was announced, several investors have reached out to the companies seeking information on their products. The program hopes to lure more investors over time.

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