Winning! PrepClass Awarded GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund’s $322,000 Grant

Winning! PrepClass Awarded GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund’s $322,000 Grant

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Chukwuwezam (L) and Olumide (R)

In 2016, Forbes Africa named PrepClass in its 30 most promising young entrepreneurs in Africa list, and fast forward to a year later, the education platform that connects learners and tutors was selected for the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund.

They have also been awarded $322,000 grant.

The Fund provides selected startups in Africa and Asia with grant funding, technical assistance, and the opportunity to partner with mobile operators in their markets to help scale their products and services into sustainable businesses with positive socio-economic impact.

PrepClass was founded in 2013 by Chukwuwezam Obanor and Olumide Ogunlana, graduates of Electrical Electronics Engineering from the University of Lagos (UNILAG). Read their feature on our BN Making It! column .

In an interview with BellaNaija, the founders tell us how they were able to get selected, share ideas for startups on how to raise money in Africa, and also speak about how they intend to change the face of education in Africa.

See below:

Tell us about how you heard of the grant

The grant was launched around June 2016 by GSM Association also known as GSMA. It is the trade body that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide. Approximately 800 mobile operators are full GSMA members and a further 300 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem are associate members. They launched the “GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund” to provide selected startups in Africa and Asia with grant funding, technical assistance, and the opportunity to partner with mobile operators in their markets to help scale their products and services into sustainable businesses with positive socio-economic impact.

When they launched the fund, it was announced on several tech blogs here in Nigeria like Techcabal and Techpoint. We saw the information online, read the eligibility criteria and everything they were looking for resonated very strongly with what we are doing and what we plan to do in the near future. So we applied for it.

What do you think you did differently from other applicants that got you selected?

Just like every application, this grant has its own specific and unique set of criteria before a startup can be eligible. Startups interested in this grant have to fall in either of the two following categories:

  1. A Sharing Economy: any mobile-based solution that enables low-income citizens to generate income through sharing, e.g. the way Uber allows drivers earn money through its platform or Prepclass allows tutors earn money.
  2. Services for SMEs : any mobile-based solution that unlocks productivity and growth for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.

More details about the requirements can be found here

Prepclass fits into the Sharing economy business model perfectly and we have an impressive tremendous track record of success. Even before applying for the grant, Prepclass had been in full operating for over 2 years, we have facilitated over 100,000 hours of tutor and unlocked passive income for tutors that they would have otherwise not have had access to.

The second reason would be that our vision to leverage on the power of mobile technology in scaling our impact on education across the country resonated very strongly with them. GSMA has a bias for mobile solutions; they are keenly interested in businesses that have the potential to use mobile technology to scale their services. In the near future, Prepclass would be launching a mobile app that allows our tutor scale their impact beyond the 1-1 constraint of the normal home tutoring model. Tutors would be able to reach hundreds or thousand of learners including those that they are not in close physical proximity with

How can startups in Africa raise money/access grants like this?

Raising money is very very tough in Nigeria. The capital market is small. Nigerian investors are only used to traditional business models so its tough for them to understand/ invest in technology startups. The interest rates in banks are outrageous with double digits and the conditions for accessing the loans can be ridiculous. Grants and initiatives like this are a very feasible and reasonable way to raise funds in Nigeria. There are so many of them with different rules and criteria to select winners, the important thing is making sure you are properly informed. In the tech ecosystem, one easy way is to follow the tech blogs religiously, subscribe to newsletters and attend events once in a while.

In any case, it is much more important to be focused on the business rather than just chasing grants. Most of the available grants out there would only sponsor businesses that are already doing very well and on a path to becoming a major success.

How do you intend to spend this grant and what are your plans for the next five years?

With this grant, we would be moving to the next phase in our business evolution, we like to think of it as Prepclass 2.0. The grant comes with the support of GSMA in helping to facilitate a partnership with a mobile network operator in Nigeria.

Prepclass 2.0 will be able to provide more passive income for our intelligent and hardworking tutors by making it possible for them to reach more learners while we leverage on the infrastructure of mobile network operators to micro bill learners at scale. As such we will be investing a lot in technology and in educational content with the intent of increasing our penetration in the Nigerian market.

At PrepClass, our goal has always been to significantly increase the learning outcome of learners while creating additional income for tutors in a safe environment. Close to 3 years of aggressive execution, we remain completely true to this mission and now using mobile technology we would make it possible for tutors to create and upload locally relevant video, audio and text content necessarily for them to teach learners at scale thus removing any physical barriers.

PrepClass is the only startup from West Africa selected for the grant. See other selected startups HERE.

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