SA Edutech Startup FoondaMate Raises $2-Million in Seed Funding

Dacod Magagula and Tao Boyle, FoondaMate's founders.

South African edutech startup FoondaMate, that offers a chat-based, AI-powered studying platform has announced that it has raised $2-million during a round of seed funding.

‘FoondaMate’ takes its name from the isiZulu word for study (funda) and the English slang for friend.

The round was led by LocalGlobe and joined by Emerge Education, as well as Dunayo Eweniyi via FirstCheckAfrica, Iyin Aboyeji via Future Africa, and LoftyInc also participated in the round, alongside angels from Luno (Marcus Swanepoel) and Justworks (Isaac Oates).

“FoondaMate’s viral growth strongly reflects how well the product resonates with learners, and speaks volumes to Dacod and Tao’s deep understanding of their users’ needs. Having initially launched with a mission to transform how students across Africa study, FoondaMate has evolved into a tool that is now used and loved by learners from a range of backgrounds, with varying needs and learning styles, from all across the world,” said Ziv Reichert, partner at LocalGlobe.

How FoondaMate Works

Following the mantra of “Education for All,” FoondaMate has been built from the ground-up with inclusivity at its core. In removing the high technological, economical and societal barriers seen across the wider edtech market, FoondaMate has created a solution to solve the shortcomings of traditional education systems.

The only prerequisites needed is access to an open chat platform, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, and a desire to learn.

The process works by allowing high-school students using the platform to send a message to the FoondaMate chatbot, asking for study help. This is done in the same way they’d text a friend. The chatbot then searches the web and returns relevant files and information with data from trusted sources.

In this way, the chatbot becomes a student’s proxy for the web but instead of sending students to a browser, information is curated and summarised and then sent as blocks of text within the messaging app. Files are similarly sent as replies within the same chat window and can be downloaded to the phone, or shared with others.

FoondaMate hopes that this direct, curated and low-data approach will allow all students – from those with limited internet access to those short on time, and even those looking for more accessible ways to learn – to be given equal opportunities and access to materials and resources.

To promote  further learning, the chatbot also suggests follow-up questions, related topics, provides definitions of words and even helps students work out simple maths equations, all without ever having to leave the chat.

Unlocking the Potential of Students Everywhere 

Founded in 2020 by Dacod Magagula and Tao Boyle, FoondaMate was initially built to help solve the stark educational inequality found across Africa.

Pupils in public schools are subjected to poor quality teaching, overcrowded classrooms and  lack of access to extra curricular support.

As a result, many are left without access to quality learning. Moreover, less than 7% of African households have a computer, leaving the majority of students excluded from online learning, while there are more than 300 million students across all developing countries that could benefit from using FoondaMate.

This was an issue that Magagula experienced first hand, growing up in a rural township in Mpumalanga, South Africa where his school had 70+ children in a class and not enough teachers. After he and his brother saved up for a basic computer and dial-up internet, they realised they could fill the gaps in their education by downloading online study resources.

“At FoondaMate, we believe talent is equally distributed yet opportunities are not. There are often competing factors that contribute to educational inequality – not just in Africa, but across the world – and our technology is helping to universally address these. It’s humbling to think so many learners trust us to support their desire to learn and it’s a responsibility we take incredibly seriously. We’re thrilled to have investors that share our passion and who believe in the power of revolutionising how and where students learn,” said co-founder Dacod Magagula.

Dacod met his co-founder Tao at the University of Cape Town where he was studying Computer Science and she studied Economics. One of Tao’s professors had been researching education and inequality which motivated her to work for a non-profit organisation focused  on improving literacy rates in Africa.

Inspired by the opportunities that even the most basic of technologies and mobile data afforded them, Dacod and Tao set out to empower students from all backgrounds, worldwide, to take charge of their learning.

Over 400,000 Students in 30 Countries Worldwide

Since launch, FoondaMate’s user base has grown to over 400,000 students in 30 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Users range from students who have little or no access to online learning resources, to students who have ample resources but are looking for ways to make learning more convenient and better suited to their lifestyle.

The product has grown rapidly through word of mouth, with the number of users more than doubling in the past six months. FoondaMate is on a mission to support and empower more than 50 million students.

According to FoondaMate, the platform’s advanced natural language processing technology now understands context and intent in 11 languages, with more on the horizon and the bot is able to adapt and mirror local dialects and slang in its interactions with students.

The startup says the funding will be used to continue growing the FoondaMate team, with a particular focus on engineering and product, while expanding into more regions. The first of these regions are Indonesia, where FoondaMate is currently in beta, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, India and Brazil.

Edited by Luis Monzon
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