All of us have had the misfortune of showing up at the school on some holiday or strike (because of he who must not be named). If there was some better and faster mode of communication, we could have just enjoyed another fine morning in our beds. This is exactly the offering of a local edtech startup: helping schools be more efficient through tech.
Ilmversity is a school enterprise resource planning (ERP) software headquartered out of Lahore that hopes to be a one-stop-shop for educational institutions.
The portal offers pretty much everything relevant to the administrative and academic functions of a school: from attendance recording and fee management to course planning and academic progress tracking. And it’s not only meant to be for organisations. The platform is accessible to parents as well, who can check their kids’ attendance or view average class grades, among other things. It works on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model so you just have to go to the website/app, sign up, go to the dashboard and access the different modules available.
What about payments though? Currently they don’t have any channels integrated given their primarily B2B focus and therefore, all the compensations are made through online transfers at the moment.
Let’s look at their market structure first. In Pakistan, private institutions can be roughly classified into bungalow schools at one end and legacy schools and big brands on the other end. The former barely pay their staff and teachers the minimum wage and can’t be reasonably expected to have much demand for ERPs. On the other hand, the well-funded legacy schools pretty much operate the same way as they have done for the past century and have shown little appetite for innovation.
Meanwhile, the big school chains are usually quite resourceful and go for in-house software, rather than an external SaaS providers. So what is even left for our local startup then?
“We are primarily focused towards mid-tier schools catering to middle and upper middle class students, anywhere from Rs3,000 and beyond. Given the customisable number of modules, it makes the product more affordable for all slabs,” says Murtaza Mustafa.
“As for the city/country-wide school networks, we actually got one such institution (with an internal ERP) on board recently because their IT head left and the entire system was paralysed. A third-party provider like us, with customer support, frees them from the hassle and lets the school focus on its core operations,” says Manager Business Development Mustafa.
Ilmversity was launched in 2017 by three techies and a corporate executive — Jawad Ijaz, Saqib Zafar, Osama Bin Shakeel and Waqas Sohail. “We initially wanted to bring parents in the loop and give them more access to their child’s education and progress but later pivoted to more of a one-stop-shop school ERP solution when we realised the market gap,” CEO Jawad Ijaz recalls.
Their revenues primarily come from schools who have to pay upfront annual charges, priced between Rs18,000 and Rs100,000 depending on the number of modules. Plus, a pro version - with additional features such as counselling - is available for parents at a cost Rs1,000 a year.
And to this day, it is internally funded with the four founders having poured in some Rs25 million so far — quite a heavy investment for a bootstrapped startup. For how much longer can they keep bleeding? “We are still incurring losses, partly because much of the earnings are being reinvested as we want to scale quickly,” informs the CEO. In that case, wouldn’t it be just better to seek external financing? “We are exploring that option as well and are in talks with some venture capitals but the entire process is time-consuming,” he explains.
Currently they have over 80+ institutes on board across the country, with the majority of them in Karachi and Lahore. However, their plans are much more ambitious. “We are eyeing the Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian markets where we are collaborating with local companies and are currently studying the landscape to decide on our expansion plans,” says Ijaz.
What about the industry space? Of late, quite a few players have emerged in the Pakistani edtech landscape, mostly offering some sort of learning management or ERP system. Queno, for example, has more or less the same model with similar features such as staff and fee management system. There are also the likes of WonderTree, an augmented reality-enabled startup working for kids with special needs. How does Ilmversity plan to keep its share then? “The industry is still in the early phases and many institutes aren’t even aware of technological innovations available. Therefore, in such an environment, these young edtech startups actually complement each other and help create awareness and open up the market,” says Ilmversity’s Mustafa.
Is the local schooling industry at large willing to finally join the rest of the world in the 21st century or are they too set in their traditional ways? That I can’t say, but I am just thankful that back in my day, such surveillance tools to track attendance or grades weren’t available to my parents. God bless this generation!
The writer is member of staff:
Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2019