How this Hyderabad startup went from skilling youths to delivering e-learning to schools
Ananth Rao has had a 22-year-long career in the mobile and internet space.
From co-founding JP Mobile (provider of enterprise-grade wireless services) in 1997 to heading operations for Motorola APAC until 2008, Ananth is quite the industry veteran.
Over the last decade, the Stanford alumnus has turned his attention to angel investing and India's startup ecosystem, with a focus on skilling and education.
After quitting Motorola in 2008, Ananth set up Focus Ventures, which backed Hyderabad-based, a social enterprise that aims to skill one million underprivileged youth. He took over as the chairman of SkillPro in 2013.
Soon after, as the Skill India Mission took off, SkillPro transitioned from offline skill training to an e-learning solution. In eight years, it has impacted over 300,000 youth across rural and urban areas and placed them in jobs. But, there was a pain point.
Ananth tells YourStory,
“The course completion rate was just four percent. We wanted to make digital skilling and training more effective, and compel people to use the application. We looked to build a platform that would offer security of content and ease of access. We launched iShiksha [an e-skilling platform] in 2018 for enterprises to skill their workforce.”
In the last two years, iShiksha has serviced companies likefor training of delivery personnel, the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala for pre-job skilling of youth, and others. Earlier in 2020, iShiksha was rebranded and relaunched as mPowerO with a bigger and more timely vision.
“At SkillPro, we understood how learning happens. We thought if we could turn that and provide an enterprise grade solution to schools and colleges with a focus on Tier II and III cities. Not as a replacement for classrooms but something to complement that and enable schools to teach students anywhere, anytime on the mobile.”
With the lockdown on educational institutions unlikely to get over anytime soon, the thrust on e-learning and online classrooms is at an all-time high. SkillPro rolled out mPowerO in May to tap into this lockdown-induced market demand.
Platform features and how schools benefit
mPowerO is a SaaS-based learning management system (LMS) for educational institutions that helps them deliver training and course content to students over a mobile app and the web. The platform’s focus lies on delivery capability more than learning content. “That is our key differentiation,” Ananth says.
mPowerO has created a unified platform for students to access all study-related material, including coursework, assignments, assessments, and announcements. It is designed for both instructor-led virtual classroom teaching and self-paced learning.
All content formats (videos, images, PPT, PDF, HTML, interactive media and animation) are supported by the app infrastructure. Schools can also schedule tests, classes, and assessments, while teachers can track progress of students within the app.
mPowerO manages the hosting, distribution, app listing, and content delivery. Schools can build their personalised apps using its cloud-based SaaS solution. The learning “belongs only to school” and is protected with platform security. Students can download lessons within the app, and access it even without internet connectivity.
“mPowerO is proven enterprise grade technology built with SkillPro’s years of experience in learning pedagogy. It empowers the educator to deliver a learning experience by leveraging the strengths of the institution and its faculty for personalised teaching, peer-to-peer learning, assessing students individually and student-teacher interaction.”
mPowerO also bundles a video conferencing integration within its solution. Schools are charged on a conventional SaaS model (per user per year).
Besides ensuring seamless delivery, mPowerO also helps schools with learning continuity and lets them scale up online teaching during the pandemic.
Customers and growth plans
mPowerO has roped in about a dozen K-12 schools in Hyderabad, including top names like Future Public School and Rockwell International School. It is also conducting pilots with the governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
The founder says,
“With the imminent necessity of online learning, we are witnessing an increasing interest, many of which are expected to be converted into deployments. The focus is on expanding the customer base in the education sector, and hence we are working with K-12 schools, colleges, universities, training institutes, and publishers.”
With the skilling division having slowed down during the pandemic due to large enterprises cutting down on investments in their Learning & Development initiatives, mPowerO will be SkillPro’s cash cow going ahead.
By March 2021, it wants to reach 250,000 learners on the platform. And by the end of 2021, it looks to scale up to one million users.
The startup has set up offices and ramped up sales teams in Delhi and Mumbai to push the adoption of mPowerO. It is also in talks with the governments of UP, Bihar, and Maharashtra for conducting pilots. “With our current plan and funds, an unlimited and infinite percentage of growth can happen,” Ananth reveals.
Funding and e-learning landscape
mPowerO is well capitalised for expansion, with parent company SkillPro having raised $2 million in angel funding and $1.2 million in a debt round in the last few years.
Its angel investors include Srini Kopulu (former Executive Corporate VP & MD at Microsoft India Development Center) and Pradeep Dhobale (former Executive Director at ITC Limited) among others. SkillPro is also backed by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC).
“Earlier, teachers were resistant to tech, but the pandemic has forced them to learn. The post-pandemic opportunity is significantly larger. We are internally discussing how to accelerate our growth.”
mPowerO’s peers in the LMS segment include, , Entab, Google Classroom, TalentLMS, and others. The global LMS market is expected to double in size from $13.4 billion in 2020 to $25.7 billion by 2025, riding on the dramatic behavioural shifts brought about by the pandemic.
Funding may not be on the cards, but mPowerO will surely look to add more schools, language capabilities, and classroom participants in the near future.
Ananth sums up by saying, “For us, 60 percent of the work was to enable ease of use. If someone can use WhatsApp, they can also use mPowerO.”
Edited by Megha Reddy