This startup may be the answer to how educational institutes can keep running after the lockdown
The convergence of technology and learning has led to unprecedented changes in the field of education. As a result, edtech came to be associated as an alternative to brick and mortar schools, where most processes of learning are replaced and taken over by tech innovations.
However, while the facility to learn from the comfort of one’s home at one’s own pace is appreciated by many, others believe that technology cannot quite replace the way a human teacher would know a student’s abilities and weaknesses, and the attention they need to pay towards their progress.
This is where Delhi-NCR-based edtech startup White Sepals comes in. Founded by Pooja Sharma, Ankur Sharma, and Rudresh Pandey in 2014, it helps traditional learning institutes adopt technology services for growth and to continue to carry on their legacy of pedagogy.
Pooja Sharma, Co-founder of White Sepals
The need for such an edtech startup that facilitates schools and learning institutes — with latest classroom technology and seamless fee payment in addition to conducting live classes — could not have been more relevant than it is today. This is when people across the world are practising social distancing, and schools are adapting to taking everything online to curb the outbreak of coronavirus.
Pooja was never intrigued by corporate jobs and starting up was a natural choice for her. Today, as the head of product, she looks after the tech-related aspects of the business while Ankur is responsible for business, operations, and sales. Rudresh weighs in on product development, being well-versed with the education industry.
The startup began by offering payment automation for the educational institutes through its platform Feepal, a plug and play solution for institutes to automate their payments without any hassle.
“However, we realised that the payment space is getting over-crowded and we had two options to scale up. The first is to diversify into online payments. Or they could focus on the education sector and develop new technologies and address the existing gaps,” Pooja recalls, adding that they chose the latter.
Leveraging Machine Learning (ML), White Sepals offers five key products — 360 Degree e-Learning, an interactive platform where institutes can run shows; School ERP, which simplifies management process and reduces costs based on the Indian education system; Tutoreal, an analytics-driven assessment platform; Live Streaming; and Franchise Management, which simplifies admission process, fee collection, identity card design, and sales for franchise institutions.
Apart from these, the startup’s flagship product Feepal is used by more than 250 institutes across 16 states in India to mobilise academic fees and other dues.
Within five years, nearly one million users — students, teachers and other stakeholders in the education sector — have engaged on the platform, say the founders.
These services can be availed on a subscription basis and all the digital value chain of the client is taken care of, Pooja adds. Bootstrapped so far, the B2B startup broke even in its third year, and claims it is currently profitable with annual revenue of over Rs 1 crore.
In addition to this, White Sepals provides technological assistance to the Health Department of Gujarat to assess health workers and medical practitioners in remote areas of the state.
Pooja shares that gaining the first few clients was a major challenge. When a few clients did come on board, the team learnt that sales cycles in education institutes are long and complex.
In addition to this, Pooja says, “It takes lots of effort to create digital value chains that are process-driven and financially viable. This becomes more difficult when stakeholders in the educational institutes are averse to change and adopting digital technology,” adding that working and delivering quality services has resolved this.
Notably, the startup is witnessing a dramatic increase in engagement. More and more students are tuning into its client institutes digital courses. Pooja also says there has been an upsurge in sales enquiries.
To sustain the momentum post lockdown, the startup hopes to build better infrastructure to facilitate work-from-home, in addition to venturing global market.
Growing up in Rajasthan, Pooja’s father was a paediatrician, who used to be transferred to various government hospitals across the state, frequently.
As a result, a substantial part of her schooling took place in small and rural areas of the state. Never one to mince words, she always tried to challenge the status quo on societal taboos and gender discrimination and stereotypes during her stay at different villages in Rajasthan. This, Pooja says, has toughened her to challenges and sown the seed of entrepreneurship.
And after completing masters in Computer Applications from Rajasthan University in Jaipur, she started working on a listing portal for local handicrafts, along with two friends.
“But we were absolutely clueless about the finance and business aspects of the venture. That failure gave me valuable insights to learn the ropes of entrepreneurship and move beyond just coding,” she recalls.
At the end of the day, Pooja maintains that nothing beats an entrepreneur, who is committed to giving their all to execute plans.