Africa’s largest innovation hub Co-Creation Hub (CcHUB) is launching a $15 million accelerator program, dubbed The Edtech Fellowship Program, to back and support 72 startups across Nigeria and Kenya over the next three years, TechCrunch has learned.
According to a statement shared by the firm, the accelerator program will support and amplify the impact of edtech startups across Africa, as well as support founders offering tech solutions that will address learning innovation in an educational sector riddled with a plethora of issues.
The sub-Saharan region has the most children and youth out of school, with about 98 million children and young people excluded from education, per this report. Even for those in school, the quality of education across all levels, from K-12 to tertiary, is abysmal. For instance, students in computer science disciplines in most Nigerian universities are taught outdated programming languages with no current real-world applications. Other problems are inadequate funding, school strikes and brain drain.
Over the years, mobile and internet penetration and smartphone access have increased; according to GSMA Intelligence’s report, mobile phone subscribers accounted for 46% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population, while smartphone adoption was 64% in 2021. This has allowed several edtech startups to develop digital platforms that have, in some way, seen thousands of Africans receive better learning and work opportunities. For instance, Tencent-backed uLesson, YC-backed Kidato and LocalGlobe-backed Foondamate offer learning programs, via different methods, to K-12 students while the likes of Andela, GOMYCODE and AltSchool, among others, match skilled tech professionals and students with local and foreign employers.
While these platforms have achieved some degree of success, they haven’t moved the needle in Africa’s billion-dollar edtech market. More edtech solutions must be built and backed for that to happen. However, with edtech being Africa’s eighth most invested sector, according to this report, its startups have their work cut out for them. Bosun Tijani, the co-founder and CEO of CcHUB, holds two theories as to why edtech’s growth in Africa is stunted and why its startups find it challenging to attract investment dollars. One, the edtech space is highly regulated, more than the casual tech observer might think. The other is that startups rarely liaise with the government or educational institutions and vice versa. As such, Tijani thinks that launching an accelerator program with an inclusive ecosystem could be a harbinger of multiple success stories and a more mature edtech industry.
“If we invest intentionally in a very structured edtech inclusive ecosystem of government, teachers, investors, foundations, and even in some cases, the students and their parents, we believe that we can begin to gain a better understanding of how to use technology to improve learning in schools,” Tijani said in an interview with TechCrunch. “It is important that when we build a program that not only finds the smartest people in the startup ecosystem but also connects the startup ecosystem with government authorities, public sectors, schools, and academic institutions so that we can ensure that there’s a clear understanding of how to scale education solutions in the space.”
The fellowship program targets startups in Nigeria and Kenya, two of the continent’s biggest edtech markets. Of the more than 300 startups in both markets, tutorial apps and platforms emphasizing rote learning are among the majority. Yet, Tijani said the accelerator program would try to fund solutions that play outside this box. According to the chief executive, Africa’s $2 billion education market, now more than ever, requires more unorthodox solutions. And CcHUB, which has run several edtech initiatives (one of which I have volunteered for) and backed successful and failed edtech startups in the past via other incubator and accelerator programs, is hopeful of discovering such solutions addressing challenges across K-12 tertiary, and skills-to-jobs markets.
“Our thinking is quite broad. We know that the core will probably be narrowed down to a few areas depending on what we see, but we’re challenging ourselves not to fund the most obvious solutions,” he noted. “We’re not just going to back any startup; we’re going to see that these startups are also driving learning outcomes.”
CcHUB intends to take on that task with the help of an in-house research team dedicated to working with portfolio startups and testing their products from launch to scale. They are part of a 30-man team across several expert groups CcHub will provide to selected startups in both locations, including product development, government relations, pedagogy and learning science, portfolio management, communication, instructional design and community building. By offering shared resources, these groups will be vital to how each startup carries out team building, MVP and prototyping testing, go-to-market strategies, engagement with organizations, and receiving feedback from users. These value-adds will also complement the initial $100,000 funding startups get to access during the program.
“Over the next three years, we will have 72 edtech companies launched into the market. We believe this will kickstart the ecosystem and reboot it afresh because out of that number, at least you’re sure about half or 20-30% of them would live for another three to four years. And that will allow us to know if technology can truly work for education in Africa,” Tijani remarked.
Supporting that many startups in three years suggest CcHUB’s Edtech Fellowship program will accept 24 startups in Nigeria and Kenya yearly (12 each). Also, these startups receiving $100,000 initial capital points to the accelerator spending over $7 million on just investments. Tijani, also the CEO of Kenya’s iHub, said the remaining money will be used to handle other resources in the accelerator, including personnel costs as well as providing support capital to startups as they progress.
Outside the accelerator program, there’s also a provision for follow-on investment that will offer diversification and lower risk for seed or Series A investors. According to Tijani, the follow-on capital will come from a $50 million edtech fund CcHUB plans to launch within the next 12-24 months; an anchor investor has committed an initial $5 million, he said, while adding that the innovation hub is in talks with telcos like Safaricom and MTN to explore arrangements that could see them become not only investors in the fund but also distribution partners for edtech solutions in the Fellowship’s portfolio.
“This is also what’s unique about this program. The people backing us are not just saying, ‘this is money, go and invest.’ They are putting serious skin in the game and funding us to be able to raise capital, which is not common in the VC space. The way we’re looking at our pool of co-investors is stacked. We’re not only looking at VCs but development finance institutions and telcos. In general, this activity that CcHub is embarking on will derisk investment for a lot of the VCs out there who may want to put money in edtech startups,” expressed Tijani, who also added that the innovation hub would be taking roadshows across India, Europe, and the U.S. in the coming months to raise the fund.