“Kago was essentially the techie who hated teachers; I was the teacher who hated technology. Match made in heaven.”
So says Toni Maraviglia, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Kenyan e-learning startup Eneza Education on her dynamic with co-founder Kago Kagichiri.
Maraviglia was a teacher in Harlem, New York when she joined an organisation called WISERBridge, which that sent her to teach in Nyanza in rural Kenya. While there she realised children were failing because they had little access to resources and revision materials, while student engagement was low.
After coming back to visit Kenya in 2011, she met Kagichiri, then at the iHub. With Maraviglia’s realisation that mobile phones could be crucial in providing content aligned to the curriculum, and Kagichiri’s expertise in the creation of SMS platforms, it was, as she said, a “match made in heaven”.
Maraviglia dropped out of business school, and Eneza was born in 2012. The company uses low-cost mobile technology to give users educational lessons and assessments using SMS, web and Android platforms.
It offers a virtual tutor and teacher’s assistant – a way for both students and teachers to access valuable courses and assessments while interacting with live instructors. Students can access locally-aligned tutorials, tips, and assessments, as well as a leaderboard, Wikipedia text and live teacher chat.
Individual parents, students or teachers can buy a subscription to courses for a low weekly or monthly fee.
“Eneza provides a do-it-yourself diploma on a mobile phone. Teachers, students and adults across Africa can take formal school courses or informal courses, earning certificates,” Maraviglia told Disrupt Africa.
“Our original target market was those studying to pass a high stakes exam in Kenya. People have very little access to high quality content that is affordable. Getting individualised feedback – from tutors – is very expensive.”
The gap Eneza is now addressing is much bigger.
“Kids across Africa want to earn micro-accreditation for what they learn and know. Certification in skills and helping people getting certified for formal skilling is where we come into play,” Maraviglia said.
Competition comes from the mobile network operators, but also from other large, institutional content providers and accreditors, such as publishers. Nonetheless, Eneza has steadily grown. It now has a team of 18 full-time staff and over 40 part-time teachers.
The startup was bootstrapped from launch, and won some competition money in 2011/12. It raised US$200,000 from angel investors – Eleos Foundation and Savannah Fund – in 2013, and a further US$500,000 in 2014. Maraviglia said Eneza is raising its Series A round this year.
“We’ll be raising a much bigger round early this year because our business model has reached some pretty amazing validation,” she said.
Currently operating in Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana, Eneza is planning launches in Nigeria and South Africa in 2017. It operates both a B2B and a B2C business model, with both corporate clients, and parents and learners paying for subscriptions and accreditation. It currently has revenues of around US$200,000 per year.
“We’re looking to scale much higher this year with multiple geographic areas where we’re operating,” Maraviglia said.
“The goal is to be connected to eight or more telecoms in five countries in the next 18 months and to scale our Android app to one million users, two per cent of which are paying.”
Turning Eneza into a success has not been easy, with Maraviglia saying distribution channels had proven difficult, especially in rural areas. Lack of devices and difficulties establishing and maintaining relationships with mobile network operators have also proven challenging.
“I think the most difficult thing we’ve encountered is that nobody else has done a product like ours before in emerging markets,” Maraviglia said.
“We’re the first to have a B2C, tech, education product in Africa that’s gained a lot of traction. Most edtech products have been funded by NGOs or paid for by NGOs, so having more than 60,000 users a month pay is something truly unique.”