STARTUP: BRCK and BRCK Education
BRCK is a tech startup that builds a rugged, self powered, WIFI device that connects you to the internet wherever you are. There are several use cases for this device, the most promising and obvious is education.
PLACE: Kenya / Nairobi
FOUNDERS: Erik Hersman, Phillip Walton, Reg Orton, Juliana Rotich
Pre-Seed: Business Angels
2013 Kickstarter: $172,107 USD with 1,078 backers
2015 $ 3 million
STAGE (April 2016): Scaling
EMPLOYEES (April 2016): 11-50
I met Alex Masika from BRCK at the CeBIT in Hannover and we talked about the BRCK device, startups in Africa and their vision to educate millions of children around the globe.
BRCK started in 2013 as a project by a team of software developers, engineers and technologists who are from Africa and live there. What was the first use case for BRCK?
Alex Masika: BRCK was founded on the premise of internet and connectivity challenges faced in Africa. Most of the solutions that are available right now are not built with the Africa infrastructure in mind. The founders of BRCK sat down and thought about why can´t we build our solution that addresses our needs by ourselves, as Africans. It is a demand driven product. It was built by people who understand the challenges Africa is facing, people who live in Africa and understand the power issues. They understand the connectivity issues and the whole thing was prototyped in Nairobi. And after the initial conception and prototyping we started a Kickstarter project and we got a very good response. We raised 172.000 dollars because people saw that this is a sustainable solution that is addressing a need that is not only affecting Africa but even the rest of the world.
Then the whole project got a new perspective. What have you found out?
Alex Masika: When we developed the BRCK we got a lot of interest from different business segments and one of the segments was the education sector. We have a lot of content providers out there with digital content but they could not find sustainable enough platforms to be able to distribute their content around the world. I used Kenya as an example: in the most schools in the rural setting there is no electricity, there is no internet and yet we have a lot of content providers who have very rich digital content but it is not possible for them to distribute it to the rural areas. And this is how we came up with the BRCK education and as part of the BRCK education we built a solution called KIO Kit.
We call it a digital classroom in a box. It consists of a box that has 40 tablets in it, it has 40 earphones and it also has a BRCK.
So the main purpose for BRCK in the Kio Kit is to store content and it is also for connectivity to the internet. The Kit also comes with one powercord and this is mainly for charging. So once you connect you are able to charge the 40 tablets wirelessly. And when fully charged you can actually use it in an offline environment. For example you can charge it at night, then take it to school and it can work for eight hours. We are not just selling technology but we are positively impacting the education space.
What is your vision for BRCK and BRCK Education and what are your first experiences with the Kio Kit?
Please tell us more about the special hardware!
Alex Masika: Some of the things we have done out of the extensive research is for example the tablets. We call them africanist tablets, we call them KIO tablets and KIO comes from Swahili word that means mirror. The tablet can fit especially to the African market, we say it is ruggedized. So it is strong enough, it constraints drops up to seven meters, it is water resistant, it is scratch resistant, it has a very intuitive interface, it supports interactive content. We enabled it to be used in the most remote places you can think of.
And what is about the content?
Children remember more when it is visual, so we have content classified as Play, Learn and Grow. At PLAY we have educational games and under LEARN we have curriculum relevant content and at GROW we have general knowledge sort of stuff because we think these are the three basic activities that help a child.
What is your biggest challenge at the moment?
Alex Masika: When we started this we initially thought that we just making this for Africa. But we have got request from e.g. Salomon Islands and from Myanmar. We are scaling very fast at a pace at which we ourselves are not able to manage on our own. So we also have established a foundation BRCK.org so that we are able to also support the underprivileged schools that cannot afford this solution yet. They really need it for their education programmes. So this is the biggest challenge so far because one kit costs 5.000 Dollars which is not affordable to many of the rural schools around.
This is the biggest challenge: funding so we could be able to distribute this kit to as many schools as possible.
Because our vision is to enable millions of children and access better education. But how do we make sure that this becomes a reality? We need as much support as possible, especially from organisations that support education.
How big is the market for your educational solution Kio Kit?
Alex Masika: There are more than 400 million children in the world who do not have access to even basic education and we at BRCK are still very young. We are still less than a year old but the demand for education in the world is overwhelming. Everybody needs education, education is what could change the future. And we are thinking about using the Kio Kit in emergencies like the refugee crisis. What happens to the kids that are in these camps? There are no teachers and with our education solution the kids could be able to learn on their own as long as you put the relevant content in it. This also could be done in the rural areas. We started this project in Kenya where we have reached 5 percent of rural Kenya. Why? They cannot afford. So this is where we need some capital injection.
Where in Nairobi did you find the opportunities to develop BRCK?
Alex Masika: In Kenya we have a organisation called iHub which is sort of an incubator where people come and create great ideas and innovations and get support and funding to move to the next level. And BRCK is part of the iHub ecosystem. So in iHub we have companies like Ushahidi, an open source project which allows users to crowdsource crisis information to be sent via mobile. So there are a lot of companies inside the iHub that started from seed level and moved to the next level.
BRCK´s film about the Kio Kit
TED-Talk 2013 Juliana Rotich, Exec. Director brck.org