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Gray Matters Capital invests in three education-focused startups
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US-based impact investment firm Gray Matters Capital has invested a total of $375,000 (about Rs 2.8 crore) in three companies under its edLABS initiative, a top company official told TechCircle.

With an $8-million corpus, edLABS funds early-stage enterprises in education.

Gray Matters put money in Delhi-based education financing marketplace GyanDhan $125,000 (Rs 88 lakh), Hyderabad-based English language training organisation Ignis Careers $150,000 (Rs 1.12 crore) and Cuttack-based social enterprise providing ‘School-in-a-Box’ solution ThinkZone $104,000 (Rs 73 lakh), the official added.

“GyanDhan, Ignis Careers and ThinkZone are catering to the immediate needs of learners as well as enabling them for 21st century relevant skills. These enterprises are combining the expertise and passion for change which these entrepreneurs have, with deep understanding of the lived realities and aspirations of the local low-income markets, to build solutions that are affordable and contextual while blending technology with a human touch to enable ease of adoption. We hope that these three investments from edLABS show paths to shake up the existing inertia in the system as local solutions are put into adaptive blueprints for replication across,” said Smita Sircar, innovations director at edLABS.

GyanDhan: This venture is an education financing marketplace which has developed a proprietary model to assess the employability prospects of students for non-banking finance companies and banks to make education loan decisions. The company was founded in 2015 by Ankit Mehra and Jainesh Sinha, alumni of IIT Kanpur and Delhi, respectively.

GyanDhan, which raised capital from Sundaram Finance in 2017, will use the money from edLABS to provide loans for domestic vocational courses through its lending partners. It will also use part of the funding to develop behavioural scorecards to assess the willingness of individuals to pay for the new-to-credit population. By 2021, GyanDhan plans to help 45,000 individuals pursue skill-building courses in the country.

“Traditional lenders have largely ignored the underbanked segment looking for loans to pay for vocational courses due to high cost structure and high perceived risk. Existing solutions still follow traditional personal loan underwriting guidelines which excludes this new-to-credit or lower income segment,” said Mehra, chief executive of the venture.

Ignis Careers: This startup combines English language learning courses with life skills. The company was founded in 2009 by Rennis Joseph and Immaculate Mary.

Ignis Careers will primarily use the capital to digitise the teacher manuals of their English and life skills curriculum so that students interact more with each other and to improve the efficiency of the programme’s in-classroom delivery, which breaks the mould of rote-based practices.

Ignis will also use the money to expand operations to other cities in India, besides strengthening its leadership by recruiting senior administrative personnel.

“Being selected by edLABS validates the impact of Ignis, as no other fund focuses on education, especially in the affordable private school segment. We stand to gain immensely from Gray Matters Capital's path-breaking and pioneering experience in this sector and their expertise will add immense value to what Ignis is striving to do,” said co-founder Joseph, who is also the CEO of the startup.

ThinkZone: This venture allows women micro-entrepreneurs to teach children from low-income rural communities using technology at a cost of less than a dollar per month. The company was founded in 2014 by Binayak Acharya.

ThinkZone will use the funding for four strategic initiatives—automate teacher training, refine the curriculum, integrate analytics with technology and to scale its programme to 2 million children in India over the next five years.

“ThinkZone is creating a scalable model of technology and local community interventions that can be adapted to the local context. Our initial years of work have led to the development of a technology platform which has been tested within local communities. We now want to take our work to the next level by streamlining systems and processes and making the existing technology more accessible and robust,” said Acharya, founder and CEO of ThinkZone.

Gray Matters Capital

The impact investment firm plans to invest about $40 million (about Rs 264 crore) until 2020 in India’s education and employability sector through various initiatives, its chief executive Ragini Chaudhary had told VCCircle in April this year.

Besides $8 million for its edLABS initiative, Gray Matters Capital has allocated over $16 million to set up new funds—$10 million for direct investments and $2 million for an education-focused startup accelerator.

Earlier this month, edLABS invested $150,000 (about Rs 1 crore at current exchange rates) in Hyderabad-based government jobs app MadGuy Labs.

Its other investments this year include STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) solutions provider SRJNA, education services provider EZ Vidya Pvt. Ltd and skill learning platform Kidovators.

edLABS will be committing $8 million over the next three years and will make a maximum of 12 new investments every year.

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