The flourishing e-learning sector in India has caught the fancy of young entrepreneurs willing to invest in education start-ups. The sector has grown considerably with a sharp rise in smartphone penetration and high-speed internet facilities across the country, and according to Ken Research, an information services company, the e-learning market in India is estimated to be around US$3 billion.
Only last month, Embibe, a Mumbai-based education start-up acquired 100Marks, a student guidance platform for Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and medical entrance test preparations, for an undisclosed sum. 100Marks was set up by IIT-Delhi and Delhi College of Engineering. The acquisition was possible only because Embibe, which was founded in 2012, had managed to raise close to US$4 million from two investors in a cash-plus-stock deal last year.
In a similar take over, another professional entrance test preparation start-up, Toppr, acquired Easyprep, a Jodhpur-based website last week. Again, the deal amount was not disclosed.
Experts said such success stories have become a common phenomenon, which has led to a significant number of young entrepreneurs trying their luck in the e-learning sector.
“Education is an emerging and lucrative field for both product and resource-based start-ups. The market is always on the lookout for fresh ideas and there are a plethora of new ones every day,” said Aditi Rangwala, member of the Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship, Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A). “Not just success stories, but also the start-up friendly environment created by education institutes is helpful.”
At IIT-Bombay, a group of four final-year students have revolutionised the way parents and school teachers interact over school activities. The smartphone app – Knit messaging – which they launched earlier this year allows teaches to send reminders and updates directly to parents’ mobile phones, eliminating the need for circulars, calendars and phone calls.
The app was launched by their company, Trumplabs, which has been incubated by the Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at IIT-B. With more than 3,000 app downloads since its inception, the company has tied up with 30 schools across Mumbai.
“Although there is large number of education-focused start-ups, there are not many working in the field of education management and administration. We were incubated at an early stage and that helped us do our research better. But when it comes to funding, your product is all that matters nothing else,” said Jaideep Poonia, co-founder of the company, a final-year civil engineering student at IIT-B.
Similarly, Bangalore-based Aurus Network Private Ltd, the company behind SuperProfs.com, an online platform that connects students preparing for various competitive exams with professors via live and recorded lectures, has secured Rs18 crore as funds from investors, to expand operations in India. The company was founded by IIT-Kanpur alumni Piyush Agarwal and Sujeet Kumar.
Another example is that of Delhi-based education-focused computer games developer Nayi Disha Studios. Founded by BITS Pilani students in 2013, it recently raised Rs2 crore from a private investor. The company products are used at several schools in Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad.
With many such new ventures doing well, incubators across the country are also noticing a rise in the number of education-focused start-ups wanting to be funded.
“Education is one of our most popular sectors, both in terms of applicants for our incubation program as well as social entrepreneurs who we end up selecting to be our investees. Typically, about 25%-30% applications in every application cycle are from the education sector. And about 30%-40% of our active investees at any given point in time are from the same sector,” said Paroma Bhattacharaya, associate, incubation support at UnltdIndia, one of the leading private incubators in India.
While in the past two years, many education companies have been able to raise funds, entrepreneurs said they continue to face challenges. Zishaan Hayath, co-founder of Toppr, said unlike e-commerce companies, getting investors to pump in money in the education sector takes a longer time. “Education is a good problem to solve with technology. But proving the efficacy of our product to investors is a challenge, since unlike e-commerce, our products are not immediately tangible, due to which investors tend to be cautious,” he said.
BN Mishra, co-founder of EntrancetestIndia, another test preparation website based in Bangalore, echoed Hayath’s views. He has been on the lookout for investors for some time, but has not found one. “We are now considering approaching friends and relatives for our initial funding, after which we will approach big investors,” said Mishra.
The way forward in education entrepreneurship seems uncertain, for now, but there is no dearth of new ideas. While companies creating products and services for education have been around for some time, students at IIM-A are working towards creating an ‘Edu-preneur Village’, a place where education entrepreneurs can work together to create an environment for education and technology.
“The Edu-preneur Village will focus on awareness about users of products, mutual benefits, and sustainability, among others. It is still in the conception stage and will take time to materialise,” said Vignesh Shankar, a student, who is also one of the brains behind the idea.