How Cisco LaunchPad portfolio startup LetzConnect is helping universities operate online with its Virtual University Platform
The India Skills Report 2021 found that only 45.9 percent of youth are considered highly employable resources, which is significantly lower than 46.2 per cent in 2020. While several factors contribute to unemployability in the country, skills taught in the college curriculum is the primary cause. Schools and colleges in India are not teaching students the skills necessary to succeed in today's job market. On the flip side, it is difficult for corporates and industries to find qualified employees.
In 2016, with the advent of social media and mobile penetration, Praveen Ganesh and Aarati Ghana Shyam saw a way out. They started LetzConnect Technologies Pvt Ltd, a Chennai-based organic educational networking portal helping students to upskill themselves for the right jobs, while showcasing the right candidates to corporates. Later, the duo recognised the need for a strong use case to retain the community of students on the platform. This gave birth to the revolutionary Virtual University Block (VUB), one of India's largest intranet and networking platforms for colleges that is a culmination of an intranet, virtual classroom and a Learning Management System (LMS).
Building an AI-enabled SaaS-driven model for education
Prior to founding LetzConnect, Praveen worked with the Indian arm of Enfinity Renewable Energy and Acme Tele Power Ltd. Aarati, on the other hand, worked with CSK Digital App, TekPlay System, Beroe Inc HT Media and Reliance Industries. Realising that less than 20 percent of Indian undergraduates have employable skills, the duo founded LetzConnect to solve the issue of unemployability by focusing on student connectivity, learnability and employability.
In 2017, LetzConnect created a VUB that can effectively and expeditiously be deployed by an institution. "We aim to connect all stakeholders in a college, such as students, faculties, college administrators on a single platform to enable conversations and provide academic support, e-learning content, upskilling opportunities and employment, with high levels of data and encryption," says Praveen Ganesh, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, LetzConnect.
Everything a college needs to run online
The VUB platform analyses each student and provides custom-made learning content. It also provides various value-added features like Smartboard, chat, library with more than 5 million e-contents, certification courses, government scholarships, higher education opportunities and more. The key aspects of the platform include:
- Community building: Students and faculty can digitally interact within the campus for effective communication and engagement, thereby fostering a sense of community.
- State-of-the-art LMS: The platform engages learners with a consumer-like experience, micro-learning (three to five-minute videos) that fits into busy schedules, and a mobile app so that learning can happen anywhere, anytime, and on any device. It also assigns learning paths that are student-specific.
- Virtual classrooms: The platform supports virtual classrooms with sophisticated, interactive video tools, editing capabilities, virtual coding labs, in-video quizzing, live lectures by the faculty and auto-transcription to facilitate and support the learning process.
- Personalised experience: The AI-enabled conversational chatbot PAL (Personal Assistant for Learning) aggregates, curates and disseminates, thereby mapping the right content to the right user, enabling maximum conversion for the university's offering.
- International collaboration: LetzConnect has partnered with internationally recognised partners for academic content, certified courses and government initiatives. It also provides last-mile connectivity for students for internships and jobs. A feature called ‘Industry Connect’ also provides the latest technology advancements from leading companies and access to various industry experts.
"Although COVID-19 accelerated the move to online platforms, we envisioned the Virtual University Block four years ago. It's a one-stop-shop to help institutions seamlessly operate online the way they did offline," says Aarati Ghana Shyam, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, LetzConnect.
Jointly onboarding schools with Cisco LaunchPad
Earlier this year, LetzConnect became a part of Cisco LaunchPad, an accelerator programme by Cisco India that supports and nurtures tech-enabled startups through co-development, new business models and joint GTMs, among others. It is the first edtech startup to have been chosen in the programme since its inception.
In partnership with Cisco’s sales team, LetzConnect is pursuing opportunities across over 500 schools and colleges. The startup is benefitting from strategic mentorship, sales mentorship and tech support from Cisco LaunchPad.
LetzConnect is also currently working on integrating its LMS platform with Cisco’s Webex education connector & other Cisco offerings into the platform and ensuring a smoother transition of screens, database, etc. The Webex Education Connector brings the best classroom, distance learning, and project collaboration experience from Webex right inside LMS platforms. It natively integrates Webex Meetings and Webex Teams™ in LMS platforms. Webex Meetings offers the ability to host classroom instructions and meetings. Webex Teams keeps educators, students, and faculty staff connected through messaging, file sharing, whiteboarding, and calling.
From campus connectivity to complete virtual solution
In an already crowded edtech market, what makes LetzConnect stand out is that it provides an all-inclusive solution. "We built the Virtual University Block from the user perspective rather than from the product perspective. We have students on the platform for four years, which helps us get a 360-degree view of their capabilities. Through assignments, hackathons, etc, we can understand their work ethic and map them to the right jobs. There's no investment in retaining them and it's also a great gateway for companies to reach a large community of engaged students," says Aarati.
The initial application rollout of LetzConnect started in January 2018 for iOS, Android and Web platforms. Today, it has launched the application in 270 colleges in India with 300,000 users. Around 3,000 colleges have registered with LetzConnect and in the next year, the application will be launched in these colleges spanning 22 cities. The startup is also in the process of rolling out the application for 10 universities in the UK.
When the pandemic struck, reaching out to colleges, corporates and other key stakeholders to make them understand the importance of the platform and its functionalities became difficult. The team decided to add two more key layers to the platform -- LMS and virtual classroom. The platform became an instant need of the hour that was approached by colleges to onboard their users. Now LetzConnect is a complete virtual university solution and more than 75 colleges in Tamil Nadu alone have signed up for the platform for the current educational year.
Expanding focus to the education sector as a whole
LetzConnect has received seed funding and a pre-series A from SucSEED Ventures and has expanded its user base for higher education. It has now launched its application across Asia, European and North American markets. As a recent development, it has signed a partnership to launch the product in Australia and New Zealand.
The startup was part of the NEAT program of MHRD to support its skilling mission for 10,900 affiliated universities. It has also completed a pilot project with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Unit and the Malaysian Skill Development Agency.
"We are focusing on introducing the product to schools and launching our LetzConnect Smart School program. The program will be initially launched across schools in Tamil Nadu this year and to other states early next year. Our key focus would continue to be in the education sector, both in schools and higher education," says Praveen.
Aarati adds, "We know that the stakeholders are different for colleges and schools, but the SaaS block is the same. To add to that, COVID-19 has completely changed the game. Moving your college or school online is no longer a 'should we', it's basic hygiene. You're not planning for the future if you're not online."