HITCH is solving information accessibility issues for underserved children in Africa
Thirty years from now, 1 billion children in Subsaharan Africa will need to be educated at school. Unfortunately, Subsaharan Africa is the worst performing region globally in terms of basic numeracy and literacy and 40% of children do not meet basic requirements. That means 400 million children will not meet basic literacy requirements in 30 years. To put this figure into perspective, the projected population of the United States 30 years from now is 380 million, meaning that there will be more children in Subsaharan Africa that cannot read or write than the entire population of the United States.
HITCH aims to solve this problem with their ingenious software service that gives schools access to educational content from the internet. Uche Onuora, Co-Founder/CEO, Steve Veerman, Co-Founder/CTO, and Brad Moon, Co-founder/CPO, built an educational platform and service that delivers learning materials via a hardware device that connects to a schools’ local network.
The team has sourced proprietary software that identifies the most relevant and best educational videos for each school. The videos come with a license that allows HITCH to freely distribute them without incurring any licensing fees. This content lives on the traditional internet, and is accessed through HITCH’s hardware device, which acts like a wifi hotspot to re-distribute the videos to students. Once the content is downloaded, it lives there permanently and can be accessed by students, teachers, and administrators with no need for an internet connection, which can be unstable in many African schools.
“Initially, HITCH was started because we were looking to solve the broad issue of access to information in emerging markets. Access to infrastructure is unreliable and access to information is very expensive in countries like Nigeria. There are no landlines there, as the entire infrastructure runs on mobile networks.” – Uche Onoura, Co-Founder and CEO of HITCH.
As a result of public education challenges in Nigeria, fee-reliant private schools have popped up to provide educational services. HITCH aims to provide these schools with access to educational content like videos that provide an alternative to textbooks. But limited internet connectivity and infrastructure has resulted in teachers and students not having many resources for their studies.
In two years there will be approximately 66 million children in private schools, but this only reflects one-quarter of the total number of children in Africa. There are approximately half a million private schools in Africa, and in Nigeria alone there are 50,000 private schools. Nigeria, HITCH’s target market is the eighth largest country in the world, with the highest population growth of any country in the world, meaning there is an opportunity to support this underserved market, which is estimated to become the third largest country in the world by 2050. Private schools are performing well financially, some are venture backed, and as this system continues to grow, banks are constantly opening up to solely provide loans to private schools.
Along with their main goal of revolutionizing education in Nigeria, HITCH is solving connectivity problems through their hardware device, which has a battery backup. In countries like Nigeria, it is common for power to fluctuate and go out at any point during the day. The device can work without power, and so can laptops and smartphones, meaning that even with these power fluctuations, student learning remains uninterrupted.
“For us, there was a million problems we had to solve to make our service a tangible business. We had to innovate in other areas to deliver our product to the target market. By focusing on the bare minimum of an operational product, we had devised software and hardware that in turn solved so many industry problems inside of our target market.” – Brad Moon, Product Engineer.
HITCH is already live in ten schools in Nigeria. To support their services, HITCH has hired a Customer Success co-op student to work in the field for four months. The company wants to ensure that those in charge of the schools know how to use the devices and provide feedback to improve their service.
By September of this year, HITCH hopes to sell 100 units. With ten already in use in Nigeria, and school term decisions being made in July and August, HITCH is certain that they will close in on their goal. Through their product launch, 20 schools have already expressed interest in purchasing their service. Larger schools are considering purchasing multiple devices to connect up to 700 students at once.
Each HITCH device can be used by 20-30 people simultaneously. The service itself is very quick because the device does not need to wait to connect to external servers, so load times are almost instant. The connection is coming from the device and not from wifi, ensuring a quick and seamless user experience. There is no limit to the number of students that can use this device, as students and teachers can cycle in and out while on the network. The main objective is to have teachers show videos to classrooms, meaning that up to 30 teachers could be sharing videos to their classrooms at once.
HITCH is also aiming to revolutionize the way homework happens. Since videos can be downloaded by the user onto their personal device, there is no need for wifi or data once they are out of range from the HITCH device. Students can download videos and other content and watch them at home. Adapting the device to the needs of the teachers is what the HITCH team is looking to do as they want to make the device easy to use and easy to integrate into the curriculum.
“The sale isn’t complete until the person has accepted the product into their life. If they are too intimidated to use the product then they won’t reap the benefits. The sale is complete once the product has been fully integrated into a persons life.” – Brad Moon.
The HITCH team isn’t looking to reinvent teaching styles, they are trying to provide a service that is complimentary to existing teaching styles. Just like those running the private schools in Nigeria, they are willing to be innovative and push the boundaries of what is possible. “Through our service we are using technology to solve a problem. We want to create individualized learning that produces better outcomes for children” Uche explains. “Students should be engaged in the classroom as it will only benefit their learning. We want HITCH to be the best education platform operating in emerging markets.”
At the 22nd Velocity Fund Finals on July 25, HITCH took home one of four $25,000 prizes to help get their devices into schools in Nigeria. HITCH is looking for funding to help them achieve their goals of connecting children in Subsaharan Africa to educational content. For more information or to contact them, visit their website.