SA’s The Student Hub ditches e-commerce for e-learning

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E-commerce and e-learning are two of Africa’s most exciting tech sectors. But South African startup The Student Hub is turning its back on one in favour of the other.

The Stellenbosch-based startup launched in April 2015 as a platform for the buying, selling, and renting textbooks, after co-founder Hertzy Kabeyus had gained experience in that space with Budget Books and Pimp My Book.

The Student Hub has now, however, divested from the textbook sector, and is focusing on the future, which it believes is e-learning. As an entity, the startup is looking to come up with disruptive innovation that will bring about social justice.

“By bringing social justice what we really mean is “a balance” by looking at the education industry as a system with many players, identifying areas of weaknesses and areas where some players benefit more than others and creating new processes and tools that will optimise the synergy between all players and ultimately help bring balance – justice – where everyone can win,” Kabeyus told Disrupt Africa.

The next stage of The Student Hub’s journey, beginning at a tertiary level, is the launch of its e-learning division. Kabeyus said the vision is to create a world where options to access and comprehend information are multiplied and tailored to the learner, and where willingness to learn is the only attribute required to become an expert in any field.

“To realise this dream we created study tools and coaching systems that make up our e-learning platform,” he said.

“These tools and systems are built to help students at all levels increase their productivity and performance. We will also launch a software that will help lecturers at all levels increase their productivity and improve the interaction and cooperation between themselves and between them and their students.”

Aside from the e-learning division, The Student Hub plans to launch within the next two years systems aimed at improving the connection between the secondary education world, the tertiary education world and the professional world.

“These systems will help students, high schools, universities, parents and companies to interact and engage with each other in the most effective ways by making sure that each party’s best interest are served,” Kabeyus said.

The company began as a team of three – Kabeyus plus two interns – but has since grown to 15. Its list of mentors is also impressive, notably Bill Paladino, formerly of Dell, Amazon and Naspers. Paladino also serves as an investor alongside a number of other angels.

Kabeyus said The Student Hub aimed to provide innovation that will help all stakeholders in the education industry to operate in a mutually beneficial way, while also disrupting current methods of trading and learning by bringing technological innovation to improve learning and teaching.

“The first step is through our study tools and coaching systems which are aiming to fill the gap in the study support sector. Students are currently studying through the textbooks and study notes, which we believe are primary sources of information but not tools to help learners understand and master topics, and overcome challenges related to studying, such as information overload and inability to articulate answers,” he said.

“Therefore our study tools and coaching systems help students know if they mastered specific topics, help them master topics they struggle with with real time feedback, and overcome challenges that come with studying such as procrastination and many more. Therefore every student who has a textbook or study note needs study tools.”

The startup is currently operating only in South Africa, and aims to serve all 23 tertiary education institutions by the end of 2017. Kabeyus said he hoped 2017 would also mark the beginning of its journey to conquer the private secondary education sector and the professional sector in South Africa.

“Our eyes are on the continent, especially countries such as Morocco and Kenya, which are next on our list,” he said.

“We will be focusing on education as a system but taking it step by step with e-learning support first, before rolling out other services to take care of the entire education system in those countries. Central, West and East Africa are our target when it comes to long distance learning, especially French-speaking countries, where we would like to bring the quality and advantages of the English system.”

The Student Hub was revenue-making through its textbooks division, but is starting afresh with e-learning. It plans to monetise by rolling out its H-bucks Vouchers – the currency of The Student Hub – at academic retailers on campuses, reselling agents and through its own online platform and application.

“Students will access the services by purchasing vouchers that will give them access to various options and features based on their study styles and needs,” Kabeyus said.

“Bursaries and all trending payment methods are going to be accepted. As we roll out other services we plan to monetise through various options that will be revealed when we launch those new services.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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