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Edtech firm Excel@Uni secures US$314k from impact investor E Squared

SOUTH AFRICA – Excel@Uni, a South African edtech firm, has raised R4.74 million (US$314,000) from impact investor E Squared to assist address the challenges that higher education faces.

The funding, along with non-financial support from E Squared’s Pathways Accelerator Programme for Allan Gray Fellows, will help the company scale student success interventions.

The interventions are such as, 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’s team has had a significant impact so far: 91 percent student satisfaction with their peer-to-peer mentorship program; over 80% of students reporting an improvement in academic results after using the company’s private tutoring services; and, most importantly, their dropout rate is three times lower than the national average.

Excel@Uni, according to E Squared, will be crucial in tackling low tertiary education throughput difficulties.

The start-up has had early success with a variety of interventions and solutions in which major roadblocks to student achievement are proactively addressed, and evidence of its effectiveness will be critical in motivating increased investment in tertiary skills development training.

The founders’ direct experiences of insufficient help while traversing their individual undergraduate careers inspired the edtech startup.

Lungelo Linda Gumede, Ludwick Marishane, and Lesedi Makena started the company in 2018, with offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Lungelo, the CEO of Excel@Uni, recalls losing his bursary in his third year of university after failing to earn the required mark for a major course, and nearly dropping out owing to a lack of funds.

“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,” said Gumede.

“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.”

Essentially, the startup empowers South African youth by increasing their odds of graduation, providing work-readiness training and income opportunities.

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.

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.

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