- SA edtech startup Syafunda has secured an investment of R2.5 million from Edge Growth. The funding will enable the startup to scale and meet the increasing need for online learning in South Africa amid the coronavirus pandemic.
- The company partners with local content creators and publishers, to set up digital libraries in places such as townships and rural schools where connectivity is limited or non-existent.
- The startup is optimistic about its ability to maintain growth when the coronavirus pandemic is over.
SA edtech startup Syafunda has secured an investment of R2.5 million from Edge Growth that will enable the startup to scale up its platform to meet the growing need for online learning in South Africa in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Edge Growth invests in high growth small businesses and is capitalized on corporate enterprise and supplier development spending under the BEE codes.
Syafunda, founded by Zakheni Ngubo in 2013, is an educational platform that provides access to digital content through mobile technology.
The company partners with local content creators and publishers, to set up digital libraries in places such as townships and rural schools where connectivity is limited or non-existent.
The digital libraries have five terabytes of pre-loaded web and deliver Wi-Fi hotspots so that everyone in the area with a cell phone can access them without having to pay for internet.
The infrastructure costs are covered either by the school itself or by companies sponsoring schools through programs for corporate social investment (CSI).
“I grew up in townships where there was a shortage of textbooks and math and science teachers,” said Ngubo, in an address. “I wanted to solve those challenges and provide digital access for high school and post-high school students.”
He said Edge Growth’s R2.5-million funding will go to cover the development of the new online bookstore of the startup, which will allow students to rent digital copies of textbooks.
He said the startup is currently working with 76 schools, 67 of which are in KwaZulu-Natal and nine of which are in Gauteng.
He said while the pandemic and lockdown have created some opportunities, seeing how much the education sector is opening up to digital solutions than it did before.
How ever he added that the pandemic has also also created challenges, for instance, the startup had to put the launch of its infrastructure in 50 schools in KwaZulu-Natal on hold, after the lockdown began in March.
Local muslim bank Al Baraka Bank sponsored that rollout. Only when the lockdown started, the startup was able to install its infrastructure in two schools.
While hundreds of schools were vandalized during the lockdown, Zakheni says he’s been lucky so far that only one of the 76 schools where the startup installed infrastructure was broken into. For the time being the startup depends on protection and back-up servers.
But many were unable to access the platform, with learners stuck at home. To address this challenge, Zakheni is partnering with service station provider Engen to allow the servers of the startup to be installed temporarily at petrol stations, so that the learners can access what material they need. He says that two gas stations will soon go live with the new devices.
He is also trying to zero-rate the platform with providers of mobile networks. The startup, which currently has eight full-time employees, has since its inception previously netted more than R2.5-million in investment.
It includes R1.5-million in 2015 which the startup netted from SA SME Fund CEO Ketso Gordhan in its private capacity, R1-million from Injini edtech accelerator in 2017 after it was part of the first group of the accelerator and R250 000 the business obtained from Simanye, a BEE consulting firm.
Zakheni said that after Syafunda took part in a competition held by the SA Innovation Network (SAINe) at the time, Gordhan invested in his company.
With grades 7 and 12 learners expected to return to class on the 1st of June, Zakheni is optimistic that his startup will play a key role in providing much-needed educational material and textbooks to the learners. When the lockdown lifts, he is optimistic that his business will boom.
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