Fourth time lucky for founder of SkillUp as startup nets Knife Capital funding

Fourth time lucky. That’s probably how Matthew Henshall would describe his current startup — SkillUp. The Cape Town based edtech company has just received an undisclosed amount in funding from venture capital company Knife Capital.

While the announcement was made today, neither Henshall — a former UCT engineering student — nor Knife Capital disclosed the details of the investment size or the size equity stake the VC company has taken in SkillUp.

The latest funding will help the startup to take on new learners and tutors, leverage partnerships with content providers and scale the business internationally.

Yet it took three failed tries to land up with an investment-ready startup, as Henshall discovered.

After working as an engineer in a fast-moving consumer goods company, Henshall started three businesses all in the space of one year. These included an education platform, a training video site for engineers and a plan to install software at schools. None lasted longer than eight months.

The funding will help SkillUp to take on new learners and tutors, leverage partnerships with content providers and scale the business internationally

But it’s been his latest startup — which he founded in January 2016 with Federico Lorenzi, Andrew Cowley and Kent Hawkins (who developed Superbalist’s Android app) — that has stuck.

SkillUp offers parents and university and school students across South Africa access to thousands of highly skilled and vetted tutors based on grades, subject, location, and budget. The startup’s platform makes it easy to find and communicate with tutors and facilitates the purchasing and scheduling of both in-person and online lessons.

Sales, drawn from a fee the platform charges tutors to list with it, have grown 10 times over the last year. A total of 3000 students signed up to the platform in the last year, says Henshall, while the startup currently has 500 tutors on its books.

“What I realised is that if you want to grow you need to surround yourself with like-minded people,” he muses.

‘Obscene’ charges on tutors

The idea for the business came to Henshall, a former UCT engineering student, after he got involved with doing some tutoring and discovered the “obscene” percentage of fees that some organisations were taking from tutors to place students with them.

SkillUp, he says, takes an effective commission of just 25% — compared to what he says is the 40% to 70% rate that traditional tutoring organisations charge tutors.

After putting together a small prototype of the platform, he approached Cowley, Lorenzi and Hawkins to convince them to join him. “They are really the glue that holds us together,” he adds. Today the team consist of six people — the four founders and two employees.

The startup has received two angel investments to date — one in June 2016 from friends and family and another in January last year from local angel investor Bas Hochstenbach.

Last week the startup was among 10 companies announced by Webber Wentzel for its legal acceleration programme Ignite.

Read more: Meet the 10 startups, scale-ups selected for Webber Wentzel’s Ignite incubator [Updated]

Knife Capital said SkillUp aims to grow its footprint in South Africa with in-person lessons, workshops and online lessons. Through inbound interest from strategic partners, SkillUp is looking at expansion into the UK, other European markets and South-East Asia.



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