Edtech start up receives R4.74 million funding from E Squared

Excel@Uni are scaling tech-enabled solutions to help students graduate on time, with a goal to help the tertiary education sector avoid losing R15 billion annually to a 45 percent dropout rate.

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic brought about unparalleled disruption and uncertainty to South Africa, including the education sector marked by school closures, distance learning, inability to tutor in-person, and many other challenges.

In that context, edtech business Excel@Uni raised R4.74 million from impact investor E Squared, with an aim to help combat the issues that higher education experiences.

The funding alongside non-financial support through E Squared’s Pathways Accelerator Programme for Allan Gray Fellows, will help the business scale their student success interventions which include the following:

  • A system that tracks weekly academic performance to flag at-risk students;
  • Seamless bursary fund administration and recruitment;
  • Digital private tutoring;
  • Structured senior-peer mentorship; and
  • Experience-based work-readiness training.

Excel@Uni empowers tertiary students by increasing their odds of graduating on time, training them to be work-ready, and helping them earn an income while studying.

The dedicated team at Excel@Uni has achieved some notable impact: 91 percent student-satisfaction rating with their peer-to-peer mentorship intervention; over 80percent of students reporting an improvement in academic results after using the company’s private tutoring facilitation; and now most importantly, their dropout rate is three times lower than the national average.

The edtech start-up emerged from the founders’ firsthand experiences of insufficient support whilst navigating their respective university journeys.

The business was founded by Lungelo Linda Gumede, Ludwick Marishane and Lesedi Makena, with teams in Cape Town (HQ) and Johannesburg. Lungelo, CEO of Excel@Uni, notes how in his third year of university, he lost his bursary because he was unable to meet the required mark for a major course, and nearly dropped out due to lack of funding.

Ludwick Marishane, co-founder Excel@Uni

He devised a plan to fund the remainder of his studies by running various businesses on campus including a tuck-shop and a hoody manufacturing business. Similarly, Ludwick faced work-school challenges during his final year, which nearly caused the multiple award-winning student-entrepreneur to drop out of university.

These young entrepreneurs believe that most students struggle to excel academically or develop as holistic graduates that can make an impact with their work due to a lack of support.

University student success rates are particularly low in South Africa, where only an estimated 55% of students graduate within two years of the regulation time.

This is especially concerning considering the low participation rate in the country. Only an estimated 2 in 7 matriculants qualify for university entrance, and only 6 percent of the entire South African population hold a university degree.

The participation stats are equally concerning for diplomas and TVET certificates. Only 6 and 3.4 percent of South Africans have diplomas and national certificates for vocational programmes (TVET), respectively. Further knock-on effects of poor university throughput include the loss of grants provided to universities because lower number of students are graduating, leading to rising inequality and lost tax revenues that would have been gained from graduate-level jobs.

South African data from Stats SA shows that only 2.1 percent of unemployed persons are university graduates, while 7.5 percent have other tertiary qualifications. The remaining 90 percent of unemployed persons, do not have any tertiary qualifications.

It would appear that in the South African landscape, earning a tertiary qualification or formal post-school training is an economic necessity.

“Student success is an inherently difficult problem because it intersects so many issues that are prevalent in our society. It is a problem that requires a steady balance of urgency and patience. For this reason we have always targeted E Squared as our preferred investment partner because of their commitment to impact, while applying patient capital from inception”, says Gumede.

E Squared believes that Excel@Uni will play a critical role in combating low tertiary education throughput issues. The start-up has demonstrated early success through their range of interventions and solutions in which major obstacles, that hinder student success are managed pro-actively and evidence of its effectiveness will be instrumental in encouraging greater investment in tertiary skills development training.

Lesedi Makena, co-founder Excel@Uni

Featured image by NeONBRAND/Unsplash

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E Squared Investments


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