Technology-led disruptions have helped India kick-off development in many spheres, but if it’s to continue at an unabated pace, the Indian market needs to address gaping holes in its journey towards progress.
One of the big gaps is in the education sector, particularly in higher education and skill development needs for the workforce in a digital economy. When looking beyond primary education, the biggest issues such as skill development for new-age technologies and quality digital higher education are being solved by startups in the edtech sector.
According to Datalabs by Inc42, India was home to 3,500 edtech startups till 2018 — funding in these 182 startups exceeds $1.34 Bn. With established players such as BYJU’S and upGrad, the problems in higher science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education are being addressed.
But the issue of fragmentation still exists, and learners and educators are forced to adopt multiple platforms and services with different user experiences and incompatible features. They also need to spend on individual subscription fees for each of these platforms, which are often not comprehensive enough. That’s the reason why edtech platform, uLektz has taken the ecosystem approach to bring a singular integrated software suite for students, teachers and colleges.
In simple terms, uLektz is looking to create an ecosystem of higher education that provides a one-stop solution for all the needs of higher education stakeholders. uLektz, which claims to offer an AI-based 360-degree approach towards higher education, was founded in 2016 by Sadiq Sait M.S and Ratnakumar Bikkani, who have about 20 years of experience working with many colleges, universities and educational publishers worldwide.
By leveraging the global experience and expertise in education technology, uLektz is founded to address the problem of unemployment and underemployment of fresh graduates in India. Besides providing seamlessly integrated suite of software applications for higher education, uLektz helps connect students and educators across institutions for peer education. It also provides colleges and universities with a SaaS-based educational ERP for learning and campus management to enable digital education and solve the critical challenges of higher education.
For its first three years, uLektz focussed primarily on building the platform and testing its solution for a market fit. But even in this testing phase, uLektz was able to onboard over 300K users from more than 200 colleges and universities without any marketing, Sadiq told Inc42.
The Story Behind uLektz
Having worked at SaaS unicorn Zoho, Sadiq gained a deep understanding and business acumen of SaaS products. His passion for education pushed him to become an edtech consultant and through this stint, he worked with many colleges, universities and education publishers outside India.
But when recruiting graduates for engineering roles, he realised that many were not employable and did not have the basic knowledge or skills for the job. Getting inspired by Zoho’s business model of providing a suite of SaaS-based products for businesses, he built uLektz providing a suite of Saas-based products for higher education. Besides that, uLektz also includes a marketplace that aggregates various digital resources for education, skills and careers from different edtech companies and offers them to its users based on their profile and preferences.
Joining him was his former employer at AEL Data Services, Ratnakumar Bikkani, who came on board as an investor and cofounder. Bikkani is a serial entrepreneur with over 40 years experience in Avionics, ePublishing and Education.
The idea behind uLektz was to position it as LinkedIn for higher education, but it goes beyond the social networking aspects of the Microsoft-owned platform.
uLektz’s Positioning In Edtech Market
While higher education is also on the government radar, the major disruption is definitely happening through startups. With measures such as allocating higher budget for new-age technology learning to creating a national education policy, the government is working hard to align the needs with the supply in the education market.
But startups and edtech companies are able to leverage artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science to revolutionise teaching and online education, often offering more resources and opportunities compared to traditional learning.
Startups are also using technology such as augmented and virtual reality to enhance the learning experience. One example is Vamrr, which aggregates content from AR, VR and MR content providers for educators and students. Although technology is rising to take up the challenges in the education system, among 149 countries, India ranks 94th in overall Prosperity Index rankings and 104th in prosperity index in education.
Commenting on this shortcoming, Sadiq told Inc42, “I believe that one of the primary reasons for our current ranking in education is the lack of quality teachers. Effective usage of the latest technologies in education can help improve our rankings.” And this is what uLektz claims to be working towards.
The Road Ahead For Edtech And uLektz
The next step for uLektz after its successful test run with 300K students is to reach 2 Mn users from across India by the end of the year 2020. While it has been bootstrapped so far, the next phase of growth would need external funding and uLektz says it is looking to raise up to $5 Mn in the next 6 to 8 months. Furthermore, Sadiq told Inc42 that the company has recently started engaging with VCs for funds, mentorship and connections.
To ensure adoption across India, uLektz will have to cross the major hurdle of rural-urban technology divide. The tech adoption in the mid-tier cities is rising, due to the IT infrastructure of the institution, internet connectivity and price factor. Here, uLektz feels like it has an advantage. Since its products are SaaS-based and institutions don’t need to purchase, install or maintain any hardware or software. Its solutions are device-agnostic and also run offline. Apart from this, uLektz claims that its affordable pricing gives it an edge and has resulted in more traction in Tier 2 and 3 cities.
Even though the adoption of edtech and online learning is on the rise, the penetration remains low outside the metros in India. According to DataLabs by Inc42 from 2014 to the first half of 2019, in Tier 1 cities, a total of 164 startups received funding with the invested amount surpassing $1 Bn. However, during the same period, only 19 startups in Tier 2 cities received funding with a total amount of just $38 Mn.
The contribution, thus, of the Tier 1 startups to the total edtech funding in India is a whopping 93%. This has a direct correlation to the kind of innovation being made available to consumers and citizens outside the metros. And this is a big opportunity for the next wave of edtech startups.
While innovation may have started recently, according to a 2017 report by Google and KPMG, the Indian online education space will grow to $1.96 Bn in 2021. And education remains one of the most inflexible parts of the economy—no matter how large the economy or how much it changes, education is a permanent fixture.
Then there’s the fact that almost half of India’s population is under the age of 25, and that tech startups and companies are becoming one of the most lucrative employers. But more than anything the market is still open for innovation—in teaching models, approach to creating an engaging learning experience—which is why there’s huge optimism around edtech.