By Priyanka Banerjee
Another large global education company has entered India through a stake buy, nevertheless small. Noida-based iProf Learning Solutions India Pvt Ltd, an e-learning solutions provider, has raised $1.1 million from US-based test prep leader Kaplan Ventures.
Kaplan’s investment in iProf is part of the recent venture capital round the company raised from Norwest Venture Partners (NVP) and IDG Ventures India (IDGVI). Together with Kaplan, these investors have provided iProf with a total of $6 million.
iProf owns and operates a chain of Wi-Fi-enabled e-learning centres across India for IIT, CAT, PMT and other high-stake tests. Here, students use tablet PCs, download latest course materials, get relevant updates, interact with the faculty on board and clarify issues through live video conferences. In partnership with Kaplan, iProf will offer coaching for GRE and GMAT to Indian students.
“These investments are being used to expand iProf activities nationwide. With Kaplan as our investor and partner, our franchisees will have more courses to sell without hiring additional faculty. This will make their operations even more profitable,” said Sanjay Purohit, founder and CEO, iProf.
According to Purohit, the iProf platform, spearheaded by Kaplan’s content, will make it possible for anyone to prepare for these high-stake admissions tests even if he/she cannot attend a regular classroom course.
“From today onwards, a student living in Patiala or Patna will have equal opportunity to prepare for admission to Harvard or Stanford as one living in Mumbai or Manhattan. Kaplan has transformed the test preparation process in the USA over the last 70 years and with this partnership, we aim to replicate the same success story in India.”
Although there are thousands of coaching centres across India, good faculty has always been a big question mark, feels Purohit. “In fact, one can never have all the top teachers in one place. Also, classroom coaching can be extremely expensive since all good institutions are located in the metros. But thanks to our Web-based coaching, we are now entering Tier I and Tier II cities, with good faculty on board,” explained Purohit.
“Initially, we were a little sceptic about this new technology-based coaching as India doesn’t have adequate infrastructure to support the same. Millions don’t have access to computers and the broadband penetration is also poor. But our touch screen tablets are being accepted by people and it makes things work,” he added.
Last year, iProf had developed educational tablets and sold more than 1,000 devices. According to the company, it is a key player in this lucrative Indian market, which is growing by 15 per cent every year.
“Although a couple of other companies have come up with tablet-based solutions, we try and provide end-to-end solutions which will meet all your requirements. One can visit our centres and download all the content required.
So, we are not just a tablet-selling company, but an education solution provider via technology. Also, technology keeps changing and developing. With the recent 3G expansion in India, we are also making our tablets 3G affordable and 4G is also on the cards,” said Purohit.
Now iProf is all set to release a new tablet called Mi-Fi which is, again, an education solution provider. “Mi-Fi is a small device; almost a cigarette box-sized gadget which brings together 3G and Wi-Fi. Thus, it can act as a temporary education facility almost anywhere,” detailed Purohit.
According to Kaplan, India features the second largest number of students studying in US universities while more and more Indian universities are now facilitating GMAT and GRE training. “Working with iProf will enable us to provide high quality, interactive courses to students in large cities and rural areas, even when they don’t have a personal computer or broadband access. Together, Kaplan and iProf can bring a new level of innovation and help the Indian students pursue their global dreams,” said Jason Palmer, senior vice-president, Kaplan Ventures.
There are quite a few players like Career Launcher, Mahesh Tutorials, FIITJEE, IMS and TIME in the country, which are growing fast in the entrance coaching segment. In 2009, FIITJEE, a leader in IIT entrance coaching, raised Rs 100 crore from Matrix Partners, a Mumbai-based venture capital firm. Matrix owns about 10 per cent in the company. Other test preparation companies who have raised private equity include Career Launcher (from Intel Capital in first round and under $10 million from Gaja Capital Partners in series B) and Mahesh Tutorials (about $12 million from Helix Investments).