The 411 on edupreneurship: How we’re making our money

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Those who’ve mastered the art of edupreneurship have identified gaps in the education sector, created solutions for them and are making money while at it.

It helps that there are countless opportunities to mine if you’re looking to mint money from education. They range from freelance teacher training and running off-school tuition premises, to more advanced options like starting publishing firms and developing learner apps.

We sample some of the experiences edupreneurs have had in the sector.

Readers make the best publishers

Dan Nyongesa, a biochemistry graduate from Kenyatta University, started his publishing firm in 2016. All he had were skills in visual design, financing raised from his family and a love for reading and writing.

He started out in a tiny corner in his bedsitter in Ruiru where he installed a desktop computer, printer and laptop. With the relevant business licences and registration documents, Visual Designers and Publishers opened for business.

A year later, Dan had put together his first textbook, Visual Biology. He printed 1,000 copies and had sold 800 of them as at the close of last year.

This first publication took up a significant chunk of the Sh350,000 capital investment he raised.

“Visual Biology found a market in schools in Nairobi and Kiambu, including State House Girls, Kenya High School and Maryhill Girls High School,” Dan says. His profit from the book he sells at Sh800 was a modest Sh24,000. He ploughed this back into the business.

Visual Designers and Publishers largely focuses on writing and printing learning materials, and since that first biology book, Dan’s found his niche with primary and secondary schools, NGOs and churches.

He has also authored Visual Chemistry for high school learners, as well as ‘Learn at a Glance’ charts for mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics, agriculture, geography, science and social studies.

But how did he find his space in a market dominated by publishers who have the advantage of a legacy spanning decades, or foreign or Government backing?

“I give my content a graphic touch by producing three-dimensional coloured images where required. This gives all my books an appealing look. I’m also always looking out for the latest developments in the digital world that I can incorporate in my business.”

His biggest single order so far has been to supply teaching aids at Eastleigh High School in Nairobi.

“I get my content from a lot of research and by working closely with other teachers who proofread my work and verify it before publication,” Dan, who’s been a teacher himself, says.

“And the beauty of being in the publishing business is that it attracts customers, mostly institutions, who buy in bulk.” But investing in publishing has its share of challenges, key among them being piracy.

“I’ve seen my books being sold on the streets without my consent,” Dan says, adding that having the Government as a competitor also complicates things.

“With the Government proposal to directly supply books to schools, publishers find it difficult to sell their books since just a chosen few are selected as suppliers nationally.”

Tutorgram: What it takes to run a learners’ app

Employers have been blaming institutions of higher learning for producing graduates who walk into interviews without market-ready skills.

This gap has provided a treasure trove of opportunities for smart edupreneurs. Joshua Njuguna, a geospatial engineering student at Technical University of Kenya, is among them.

With just Sh10,000, he set up Tutorgram, a project-based online learning platform that enables students to gain skills by tackling complex and real-life challenges.

This amount, Joshua says, went into business registration, patent acquisition and some marketing. It cost him nothing to start his mobile app.

And now, what started as a passion to tackle the challenges facing graduates in the job market has turned into a full-time business venture.

“This lack of skills that the market is looking for starts in secondary school, not in university. Most of our secondary school education is theory based, so students go into university with very little interest in pursuing project-based learning or acquiring industry-driven skills,” says Joshua.

In partnership with three other students from different universities, he came up with the mobile app that brings together students and teachers who post challenging questions and projects that attract various thoughts and suggestions from subscribers.

The industry-driven skills he hopes his app will impart include critical thinking, leadership, problem solving, and an eagerness to learn; basically, skills that can’t be delivered through textbooks.

For Joshua, project-based learning is the most effective tool in imparting skills. “I believe that education should be skills-based, all the way from secondary school, and that’s why we focus on projects on our app,” Joshua says.

Though the app hasn’t drawn any investment since its launch in 2016, Joshua and his team have kept it running using earnings from various side hustles, including graphic design, and also found mentorship support through Chase Bank.

Want to make money? First understand the need

Artificial intelligence has become all the rage, and it is being used to personalise learning through mobile apps. However, AI tends to leave out those who don’t own smartphones or can’t afford to have an online presence.

This is what kept troubling Julie Otieno and Claire Mongeau. As a result, in 2016, the two launched a mobile learning SMS platform that can be used by those with the simplest of phones.

Julie, 26, graduated from Strathmore University with a degree in computer science, while Claire describes herself as a passionate educationist who’s had a seven-year teaching stint in India, the US and Kenya.

Since its launch, M-Shule has worked with more than 400 users who pay Sh90 a month to access thousands of SMS lessons in English and math.

For this amount, pupils from Standard 4 to 8, drawn from 15 schools in Nairobi, receive one-and-a-half hours of lessons per week. They also get free reports that map their learning progress.

“We spent first term building partnerships with more than 70 schools across three counties, and plan to spread M-Shule across more schools this year. We’re looking to reach 10,000 students in at least 400 schools across five counties in the next 12 months,” says Julie.

“To start a venture like M-Shule, one needs a deep passion and dedication to improving children’s lives through education, along with a strong understanding of what parents and students actually need,” he adds.

The duo also had to engage with different audiences to become fully aware of what the learning needs were – a process that’s continuous.

“As students use the platform, M-Shule tracks and analyses their performance to understand what skills they’ve learned and what they have yet to learn,” says Julie, who’s the M-Shule CEO.

These progress reports are also sent to the pupils’ parents, teachers and schools.

“This lets them know how the student is doing, what subjects they’re improving in and what they still need help with.”

The app, which makes use of personalised and adaptive tech, also engages with users every day to analyse what a pupil knows to know what to deliver next.