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Like mother, like son. Western Cape premier Helen Zille once served as an education minister in the province. Now years later her son, former maths teacher Paul Maree is making waves as an edtech entrepreneur.
Maree runs edtech startup Paper Video which he launched with another former teacher Chris Mills in 2015. The Cape Town based startup provides extra teaching material on its online platform, as well as offline content through microSD cards.
The company, which works with several non-governmental organisations such as Edunova and AVA, is already making waves. Last year the startup represented South Africa at the Global Edtech Startup Awards finals in London and was also a finalist at the SAB Social Innovation Awards.
On Monday the startup revealed to Ventureburn that through a partnership with NGO Imagine Scholar it was able to raise matric scores for students in the Nkomazi local municipality in Mpumalanga by 16% between 2015 and 2017.
The NGO, which runs an after-school mentorship programme, said the partnership had seen Grade 10, 11, and 12 students improve their marks in mathematics, physics and life sciences.
Maree puts the startup’s success with Imagine Scholar down to “good edtech resources combined with good facilitation”.
Paper Video’s founder Paul Maree is politician Helen Zille’s son
The startup’s platform currently has 30 000 registered online users, a figure which the founders expect will increase before the final exams this year. He said the startup first turned a profit in 2016.
“We’ve been in the green ever since and this year is looking like it will be our biggest to date,” added Maree.
Idea born out of township school
The two founders both taught at The Centre of Science and Technology (COSAT), a school based in Ilitha Park, Khayelitsha, where the idea for the edtech startup came to them.
“Despite COSAT setting a high standard in their teaching and academics, the inequality inherent in our education system was glaringly obvious and Chris came up with the idea of using existing technology to create a resource that could combat this massive inequality in opportunities,” he said.
Back in 2014, Maree and Mills pitched a pilot of their platform to Millennium Trust which subsequently led to the duo securing R600 000 in seed funding from the non-profit organisation.
“We then created our first ever resources, six past papers for Grade 12 mathematics with video solutions, which we then donated to as many learners and schools who would accept them. Based on the success of this pilot, we decided to launch our business at the start of 2015,” he said.
In 2015 the startup entered into a partnership with the Actuarial Society of South Africa’s Actuarial Society Education Trust which allowed the startup to get resources to assist a “large number of learners from low-income backgrounds”, said Maree.
Rather than raise the additional funding they required via venture capital, the two initially funded the startup using loans that the business took in 2015 and has now fully paid back.
“While we were still searching for startup capital in early 2015, we were offered some truly unfair, one-sided deals from VCs and I can imagine that anyone taking up deals like that would regret them in the years to come,” said Maree.
Paper Video also sells its resources in high school accounting, mathematics, physical sciences, natural sciences and life sciences to schools and parents.
Maree said the startup is looking to adding more free resources on its platform after having recently subject maps for Grade 10 mathematics and physical sciences. The startup also intends to expand into primary school grades and include more subjects.
However, Maree stressed that the company’s main priority is to provide more languages of tuition. Currently most of Paper Video’s resources come only in English, with some mathematics and content available in Afrikaans.
Says Maree: “We want to create resources that help them learn in their home language while also taking the reality of the English exams into account”.
Now the questions is, will the startup teach mom Helen Zille a thing or two too?
*This piece was co-written by Ventureburn editor Stephen Timm
Featured image (from left to right): Paper Video founders Paul Maree and Chris Mills (Supplied, Roxy Klein)