iHub, Mastercard ink Sh183 million deal to expand 12 startups


Mastercard Foundation ICT lead Suraj Sha with iHub Kenya managing partner Nissi Madu during the first cohorts of the Mastercard Foundation EdTech Fellowship Programme in Nairobi on Friday. [Courtesy, iHub Kenya]

Nairobi-based business incubator, iHub Kenya, has entered into a deal with Mastercard Foundation, a private Canada-based charity, to help startups grow and expand their offering in digital learning solutions.

Managing partner Nissi Madu said iHub Kenya signed up 12 educational technology (EdTech)startups in six months which underwent an acceleration programme to enable them to amplify support around products, talents, distribution and funding.

The fellowship, which was first announced in February this year, went through a rigorous selection process leading to the selection of the firms which met the robust criteria outlined by the Mastercard Foundation and iHub.

The start-ups received $100,000 each (Sh15.3 million) in funding to help drive growth and scale up their business.

Speaking during the Demo Day event for the first cohorts of the Mastercard Foundation EdTech Fellowship Programme, Ms Madu said the successful firms were required to have an i-tech solution which addresses learning challenges or learning gaps from early learning to working skills in formal, informal or corporate world. 

"They also needed to be at a certain level of revenue attraction and show that they are willing and excited to receive the support needed to amplify and do more than they were already doing and that the solutions can reach a lot more learners across Kenya," said Madu.

She said the startups were selected from across Kenya and none of them were their portfolio companies.

These start-ups were then inducted into a six-month accelerator programme that started in May. The programme involved advisory support across learning science, investment, product development, financial management, and communication strategy among others.

iHub Kenya, which is based in Nairobi, is a globally recognised innovation centre which has been the main catalyst for regional technology acceleration and a role model for tech hubs in emerging markets since 2010.

Through the programme, the startups will be able to provide a range of different solutions that seek to address a range of different challenges.

One of the solutions that were picked is FunKe Science, which seeks to improve outcomes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects by offering interactive and engaging learning that helps them have a deep understanding of science concepts.

It offers online and offline content that makes science fun and relatable for African children.

The Demo Day event was an opportunity for the start-ups to highlight their growth in the last six months while in the programme, as well as share their plans with potential investors and customers.

The participating start-ups in the 2023 cohort of the Mastercard Foundation EdTech Fellowship include Arifu, an interactive learning platform for small businesses and job seekers in Africa; MsingiPack, a self-paced learning content offering; Kidato Inc, an interactive online learning platform for family; and EasyElimu, an online platform providing K-12 learning content and exams prep for students.

Ntemata, a learning management system for teachers to deliver more efficient assessments for students, Angaza Elimu, an adaptive and interactive platform that leverages technology to improve access to quality education on demand and Silabu, a platform which connects students with tutors also benefitted.

Others are Smart Brains Kenya, a Edtech solution focused on empowering schools to independently provide coding and robotics lessons in schools and Longhorn-owned Loho Learning which provides an e-learning platform for personalised and interactive content.

The programme further benefitted Snapplify, an innovative and e-learning solution for e-learning content and materials; and Goomzu by Elewa, an education innovation solution focused on supporting teachers, schools and large training audiences to deliver cost-effective and scalable continuous professional development.

As part of the benefits of the fellowship, the start-ups will continue to continue to receive additional advisory support from iHub for the next 12 months.

Suraj Shah, the lead at the Regional Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning in ICT at Mastercard Foundation, said the fellowship is part of a broader goal of the Mastercard Foundation to support the growth of an impactful African EdTech ecosystem.

He said this will catalyze innovation and advance promising practices in the use of technology in learning and teaching to benefit African learners, education, and EdTech innovators across the continent.

"At MasterCard Foundation we believe that everyone has a chance to learn and prosper," said Mr Shah.

"We believe we can improve access to relevant and quality education by using technology as an enabler. And in that vein, we want to foster locally developed Edtech solutions that can enable learners to not only access education but improve their skills using this technology."

He added that learning outcomes for learners who used the platforms had improved in some instances by as much as a third.

“In this fellowship alone here in Kenya in six months we have seen the 12 Edtech companies come together to reach 32,000 new learners,” he said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg…We will support them for the next two to three years on how they can grow bigger.”

During the forum, Nairobi County Director of E-learning, Digital Economy and Startups Elizabeth Ndung'u Gitonga said the county will facilitate innovation in the country by opening up incubation hubs across the country.

Overall, the process has been intentional to ensure that the cohort offers a range of solutions covering digital content, learning management platforms, STEM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) education support, workforce and skill development, tutoring and testing, curriculum-based online learning content, and providing support for teachers in lesson delivery and assessment.

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