Akdemia: the First Virtual School Community
Akdemia: the First Virtual School Community
Akdemia is a web service created in 2011 in Venezuela so that school centres could build an interactive community that integrates parents, teachers and students. This platform allows to manage all school processes, from the students' calendar to their grades, school activities or weekly reports.
For teachers, this is a simple and fast way to inform parents about their children's activities and performance and for the latter, it's a highly useful tool to keep an updated contact with the educational statement. This virtual school community was welcomed by Wayra (Telefonica's startups' accelerator) in late 2011 and few months ago it arrived in Peru.
Juan Andrés Lagrange was one of the founders of Akdemia, alongside Valentina Delfino and Carlos Iguanzo. Their profile gathers some of the entrepreneur stereotypes of the Millenial Generation: he studied Computer Engineering as he created his first web design company, he's bilingual and has the almost organic looseness of the studding of the startups' ecosystem. Now, at 28, he faces, with his partners, the challenge of going international in their new branch in Lima, as they try to consolidate their company as a project of overall profitability.
How was Akdemia created?
It was in 2011 when we started the first draft of the software's code. We had seen that there wasn't a software that could contact teachers, parents and students. By then, there only were systems of single small-scale facilities, based on languages such as Virtual Basic, which are very old and didn't allow to interact. I remember that my mother knew nothing about how my brother was doing at school, she only had the official report. In the meanwhile, she had no idea about his performance or other school activities. We were thinking of such situations when we started developing the first software.
And you decided to create a startup...
We started two companies at my house's library. When Wayra awarded us in December 2011, there was an important acceleration that meant a major professionalization in the processes: the search of clients, market segmentation... We got 21.000 USD from Wayra, a lower than usual amount of money due to Venezuela's exchange system. We got to gather 50.000 USD with the help of family and friends. In November 2013, we got to the first round of angel and venture capital with good qualifications. We were helped by Juan Andrés Vogeler, someone who has been extremely relevant to the growth of our project. He worked for companies such as JP Morgan or Merry Lynch and he captures new business for investment banking and directs the processes to the stock exchange. He has been a key man in our strategic planning and goal definition.
How did you go from paper to prototype?
In October 2011 we started we the first school in Venezuela, a kindergarten run by a relative. It was our pilot experience. We prepared the communication tools and in October that year we won the Wayra contest in Venezuela, which gave us the necessary solvency for the project. In March 2012 we started working with bigger schools. In October we had our commercial launch and the schools which tried our pilots were our first clients. Now, in Venezuela, 15,000 students use Akdemia.
What's the main objective at this phase of the development?
Above all, we want it to be an inclusive tool, not only for elite private schools or with better resources. We want it to be in every school, that's why its price is so low, between one or two dollars per student. I think that growth this time has been important precisely because we want to cover all sectors of society.
You've gone from Venezuela to Peru. Why?
Due to the great crisis Venezuela is going through, we decided to settle in Peru some months ago. We thought about Colombia and Mexico but because of economic conditions and similarities between the Peruvian and Venezuelan people, we decided to come here. The Educational System is also very similar.
How was your reception in Peru?
For some months, we'll be trying our tool here, until the next school year starts in March. So far, the reception has been very good. They're people who are open to invest in technology, and they're willing to try new things. Peru went wrong in the last PISA report (Programme for International Student Assessment) but for them it has been revulsive and they have implemented new policies. They have spotted their problems and are decided to correct them.
The internalization of the programme has been a consequence of growth or the result of a crisis?
We always wanted to grow outside our country. A school is the same in Venezuela as in China. the needs are the same, parents demand the same information. We wanted to take it to a Latin American level, and also worldwide. We are now seeing that Peru is our first step in this experience. What we are going to lean here in terms of networking or commercialization will be very useful for the countries where we want to go. We think of Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, Colombia...
How has the relationship with investors been?
We've had many conversations since we left Wayra. We were in Global Wayra in December 2012, Miami, and it was a shock to see the interest investors had in us. But that all vanished the moment we said we were from Venezuela. A Texan investor told us he had a check ready for us and that he would use it the moment we billed from another country. We are now selling ourselves as an international company although the fact that we are 100% operative in Venezuelan is our major endorsement.
You are a good example of a Latin American entrepreneur.
Akdemia has changed my life. I had an entrepreneurship experience when I was in College, we made webpages. But the more the company grew, the worse were our academic results. So we decided to quit the company. In my case, I can say that Akdemia is the best Post-grade I could have taken. If we fail, I will never regret about it because all the professional contacts and personal growth I have had would have been impossible without it.