Egypt-based educational technology start-up Orcas is riding high on the Covid-19-induced EdTech boom.
As schools closed to adhere to movement restrictions, start-ups like Orcas capitalised on demand for online learning and plans to expand its operations in the Middle East and South-East Asia to boost growth.
The company secured funding worth about $4 million since rolling out its platform in 2019 and plans to “raise a lot in the next few months”, its chief executive Hossam Taher said.
“EdTech requires a lot of research and development and a lot of experimentation both on acquiring customers and on the product side,” he added.
“So, there is always a lot of financing going into the product and that’s why we would be raising a lot in the next few months.”
Co-founded by Mr Taher and Amira El Gharib, Orcas provides K-12 students with one-on-one tutoring sessions, both online and in person. The platform also includes practice assignments and personalised learning plans to help students learn better.
The company, which is currently active in Egypt and Pakistan, aims to expand across the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, as the Arab world’s largest economy steps up investments in the technology sector to wean its economy away from oil.
Saudi Arabia “is booming and there is a lot of space to operate”, Mr Taher says.
“The talent pool is improving and it is easier today to find people who can join the team in Saudi Arabia compared to before and the investment scene is interesting.
“There is a lot of financing happening in Saudi Arabia and the market is also similar to Egypt with the Arabic-speaking population.”
This month, Saudi Arabia unveiled more than $6.4 billion worth of investments in future technologies and entrepreneurship to accelerate the kingdom's digital economy.
The initiatives include the official launch of Saudi Aramco Venture’s $1bn Prosperity7 fund and a $1bn investment from Neom Tech and Digital Company in future technologies and others, the recent announcement said.
The company is also looking at potential in Iraq as well as in Indonesia as “those markets … [have] a large population, [that is] very young” and offer great potential for growth, he says.
“This is where we come in and provide parents with peace of mind and provide students with the best education possible at the best price.
“A great teacher for every student, great practice question banks related to the curriculum, great video content so that they have the holistic learning experience online and at their home.”
Orcas raised $2.1m in its latest funding round, backed by investors including CIRA’s NFX Ventures and Access Bridge Ventures, among others.
In the next two years, “we have a lot of things to do, a lot of things on the product side, a lot of things on the market expansion side”, he says.
Orcas has also added more content on its platform in a bid to diversify its offering.
“We started first with learning, with teachers, now we added new content in terms of practice question banks, so now kids and students can go and with the teachers solve question banks that we prepare.
“We also would be adding content in the form of videos so that kids can deepen their understanding.”
The company currently has a pool of 4,000 teachers offering online teaching to pupils numbering about 14,000.
The EdTech sector in the Middle East and Africa is set to grow to Dh26 billion ($7.07bn) by 2027 as the shift to digital education accelerates because of the Covid-19 pandemic, a study by Report Linker showed.
The widespread adoption of smartphones, interactive displays and other digital learning tools is expected to drive growth in the next few years.
EdTech firms that are operating in the region today are all “complementing each other and are offering something unique and are doing a great job”, Mr Taher says.
“Together, hopefully, we will be able to offer the students of the region an amazing outside-of-the-classroom experience.”
Egypt's government is also supporting start-ups through flexible rules and regulations, he says.
“We have a huge market and flexible landscape, a government willing to adapt and to change through laws and regulations to accommodate growing start-ups.”
Every stakeholder, from financial institutions to the government to customers, is “being open to the idea of start-ups and betting on them, which gives us the opportunity to grow. We have a lot of money coming in from Egyptian venture capital firms and non-Egyptian VCs".
A number of start-ups in Egypt have recently secured funding to expand their operations, including financial technology start-up Sympl and Fel Sekka, which is active in the logistics space.
Cairo-based e-commerce platform Taager also raised $6.4m in new funding to expand its operations across the Middle East last year.
Mr Taher worked as a part-time teacher while studying medicine at Cairo University and “had a lot of exposure to the private tutoring industry, its challenges”, while realising “how low the availability of great teachers are and how unorganised the teaching sessions are”.
“It is very hard for youths to find a teacher to learn outside the classroom. It is always the school, it is always the university and it is always the nursery where students go to.
“Our mission is to provide this high-quality learning experience outside of the classroom, at home, finding a great teacher, finding a great content and video material, relevant to the school system students study in.”
Launch year: 2019
Number of employees: 70
Sector: Educational technology
Funding: Orcas raised more than $4 million in funding in the last two years
Q&A with Hossam Taher, co-founder and chief executive of Orcas
What other successful start-ups do you wish you could have started?
I am a big fan of Airbnb. It provides rooms and accommodation and makes sure that guests have an amazing experience which is something that I am trying to do at Orcas.
What is your vision for the company?
My vision for the company is to be the biggest live learning provider for the Mena region and South-East Asia. We want to offer every student in the world a one-to-one live experience, plus question banks, plus videos so that they can have a holistic learning experience outside of the classroom.
Where do you see yourself and the company in the next five years?
I see myself with the company in over 50 markets offering students and parents a great service and offering teachers and tutors a new way of earning more money besides their jobs.
What new skills have you learnt in the process of starting this company?
I keep learning every day and it is hard to mention one or two. I guess one of the most important skills that I learnt over the past two years is how to unlearn effectively in order to learn something new.
Who is your role model?
Everyone from whom I can learn something. All the big names and all the small names in the business world. I am always learning from them and they are my role models.
How do you motivate your employees?
It’s always important to share the vision and mission and what is the purpose of the company and why we are doing this. It’s important that the team identifies with its mission and is passionate about the purpose of the company in order to have the self-drive and self-motivation to come to work every day and do the best job possible.