Nigeria’s AltSchool raises $1M pre-seed to build an alternative school for Africans

The demand for software engineers is expected to grow by 22% between 2020 and 2030, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This figure is larger than the 4% average for other careers.

One would be out of touch with reality to say they haven’t noticed this phenomenon in Lagos, Africa’s startup capital city, where mid to senior-level engineers are leaving in droves to seek better pay and opportunities in companies outside Africa.

Andela has been pivotal to placing the continent’s tech talent globally. But since the unicorn changed its business model to a pure marketplace focusing on senior developers, other platforms such as AltSchool Africa are trying to fill one of the gaps it left: training people to become junior to mid-level engineers.

The company (not to be confused with U.S. AltSchool, which is now Altitude Learning) has raised $1 million in pre-seed funding to scale its efforts, said chief executive Adewale Yusuf to TechCrunch. He founded AltSchool with Akintunde Sultan and Opeyemi Awoyemi last October.

In 2020, Yusuf toyed with the idea of building a physical campus where he and his team would train software engineers to get international opportunities. Yusuf met with educational stakeholders at a public university in Ife, a neighbouring town near Lagos, to pull this off, but the deal never materialized.

After that, the team focused on scaling sister-company and Techstars-backed TalentQL, launching products such as Pipeline, which trained mid-level engineers, turning them into senior engineers and placing them in international companies. However, upon further research, Yusuf figured out what needed to be done to make his past idea work: a remote-centric approach.

Nigeria has a population of almost 200 million, with 60% under the age of 25. The country’s unemployment rate is at a staggering 34% and continues to leave many university graduates in its trail. Like many Nigerians, Yusuf believes the traditional schooling system is insufficient to get university graduates decent jobs. 

AltSchool provides a solution as an online school with a curriculum to improve/upskill non-technical people with technical and soft skills while partnering with higher institutions to provide diploma certificates. The company’s model is akin to BloomTech’s (formerly Lambda School).

“You might need a BSc if you want to be a doctor or nurse and some of these other skills. But when it comes to being a software engineer or digital skills, you really don’t,” said the CEO.

“We need to find a shortcut for people, whereby they will be able to make money and provide for their family and add value to the economy. That’s one of the reasons we launched AltSchool because if a lot of people can have marketable skills, then I think we can solve a massive problem in the market.”

Participants in its program would need to have a high school certificate and be computer literate, the company specified on its website. 

When students apply to the program, they are provided with a home study kit in preparation for an assessment test. Those admitted into the school, meeting a pass mark of 85%, will take a software engineering course with three tracks: frontend engineering, backend engineering and cloud engineering. It’s a one-year program where students take classes for nine months (three semesters) followed by a three-month internship at local tech companies to gain experience.

AltSchool employs an income-sharing agreement (ISA), so when students complete the program and get hired, they’re expected to pay $500, which can be paid in full or installments — $50 over 10 months or $100 over five months.

Yusuf said that AltSchool might do away with the ISA model for the next batch. Instead, the company may use a subscription model, where students pay between $20-$50 monthly for the duration of their program.

That said, AltSchool makes provision for those who don’t get admitted into its program. They can access the platform’s first-semester content for free and practice. If they stick to the end of the three-month curriculum, AltSchool will provide avenues for them to complete the entire nine-month program.

“We realize that the most important thing is skills. We genuinely want to give people the skills. And we know that not everybody that passed the assessment will make it to the end of school, nor are they better than those who failed,” he said. “We’ll create a situation where if some can stick to the end of this semester, we’ll find a way for them to complete the programme.”

In AltSchool’s pipeline are courses on product, blockchain and data. It intends to launch the product modules, including product management, marketing and design, by Q2 this year. The company is also exploring B2B partnerships with private schools in Nigeria and Africa, using AltSchool’s curriculum in their classes.

So far, more than 8,000 people have applied (the application fee is ₦10,000, almost ~$20) to participate in AltSchool’s software engineering program, which starts in April. These applications came from 19 countries (including 14 African countries) and Yusuf said the company received the most entries from Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Botswana. 

AltSchool managed to pull in those numbers via word of mouth while garnering some enviable following on social media. Some well-known personalities from tech and music are sponsoring students through the program, while others, noticing the startup’s promise, are cutting checks.

They include Olugbenga “GB” Agboola, Flutterwave co-founder and CEO; Shola Akinlade, Paystack co-founder and CEO; Folarin Falana, a Nigerian artist popularly known as Falzthebahdguy; and Akitoye Balogun, a Nigerian artist known as Ajebutter22. The VCs in the round include Voltron Capital, Nestcoin, Pledges and Odba VC.

AltSchool plans to use the investment to build its content and curriculum, technology infrastructure and community concept, where students will meet offline to network and learn together.