The Writing on the Wall

A group of teens eagerly approach posted papers on the wall outside of a Lagos, Nigeria, high school. The scene is filled with trepidation and anticipation. As teens read names, some find theirs on the list and skip off with heads high. In some areas, a growing number of students walk away with a smile.

Abideen Adelu, founded Prepa in 2015 to improve student test scores and decrease standardized test failure and subsequent drop-outs in Nigeria’s public schools. In just 12 months of business, among Prepa users, Abideen reports a 2% increase in passing scores.

In 2016, Abideen won $100,000 in the African Entrepreneurship Award. With seed funding and extensive mentoring, both during the Award, and after winning, Abideen is confident that Prepa can increase its impact.

Students in Nigeria use Prepa to prepare for exams.
Students in Nigeria use Prepa to prepare for exams.

No Hiding Those Emotions

Abideen laughs when he says, “One thing about students, they don’t know how to hide their feelings! When they pass an examination and they find that this particular platform has helped them, they share it.” Glowing, heartfelt reviews of Prepa and its impact on test scores are all over the internet. One student says, “I would have loved to rate more than 5 stars if I could…For any student preparing for JAMB or UTME, Prepa is the learning app to download. Your success is guaranteed. Much love…”

Every spring, students in Nigeria take standardized tests in preparation for university enrollment. Prepa delivers standardized test practice material to a smartphone or computer. The software can be downloaded as an app, or installed off-line on a computer. Prepa’s material prepares students for country-specific assessments, JAMB and Post- UTME, for more than 40 institutions in Nigeria. For students, the stakes are high, and Prepa has been a life-saver for many.

A lot is riding on testing, and success is not guaranteed. A recent article in Quartz Africa3 states that “nearly 75% of college applicants in Nigeria fail to get in” to tertiary institutions, making standardized test scores extremely important. With more than 20,000 UTME practice questions, and another 20,000 for post-UTME, students using Prepa can get a leg up, and hopefully find themselves in the 25% who are accepted to university.

Selling on Impact

For all of the problems in education, there are just as many proposed solutions. For Abideen to separate himself from a crowded market of applicants, African Entrepreneurship Award mentors encouraged him to emphasize impact. For investors, the mechanics of Prepa were important; however, for winning investors, Prepa’s positive impact sends him to the front of the line.

When applicants for the Award first apply, in Round 1, a mentor from their region gives them feedback on their idea. Early on, a Regional Mentor encouraged Abideen to directly show the impact of Prepa on the reduction of mass test failure. Beyond the talk of the platform and its features, what was the impact? Was it reducing failure? Abideen took note, and carried on.

When he arrived in Casablanca for the Boot Camp, the impact theme continued. Abideen says that his Boot Camp coach “always told us that we should try as much as possible to make sure that we are having impact in whatever we are doing. That is what has actually kept us relevant in the educational market. Every time we do things we are trying to see how we are impacting our customers, country, and stakeholders.”

Prepa software is available on smartphones, laptops, and desktops.
Prepa software is available on smartphones, laptops, and desktops.

Increasing Impact from 15,000 to 40,000 Prepa Users

Being relevant in the Education sector takes a focus on impact, but also on content. One mentor and the Presidential Jury made this very clear to Abideen, and the message resonated. Winning $100,000 in funding means that Abideen can develop Prepa’s content, making the app even more competitive and relevant for students. Initially a team of just three software developers, Prepa has now grown to a team of 14, after Abideen hired a bevy of content experts from a local university. These experts are not computer geeks, but experts in their education content fields.

The results have been positive. Prepa has doubled in reach, from 15,000 students pre-Award, to now more than 40,000. Abideen says the main focus now, besides some upgrades to the software and user interface, is to “make sure we have more educational content for student consumption on the platform so that students keep coming back to consume more.”

Abideen has a tempered optimism for what lies ahead. In Nigeria, there are nearly 2 million students a year sitting for exams. And, a quick-read online reveals that for all of the “this app is just perfect” comments, are several others asking, “What about this test?” Students are hungry for more test prep help, and Abideen and his team are working to satiate that hunger.

Prepa continues to diversify their content, and also their delivery. Originally available as an Android download, Prepa is now available off-line. Parents with at home desktop computers want to install the software. Cafes frequented by students are installing it on their systems. Schools are buying the software for their computer labs.

 

More Writing on More Walls

 

On the African Entrepreneurship Award journey, Abideen have developed clear milestones for funding disbursement. These milestones mean that, Abideen says, “There is no way you can shy away from your responsibilities!” And, Abideen feels the weight of responsibility, not just of funding, but of 2 million Nigerian students vying for university admittance. And, he hopes for many more names on the walls.