Episode 006: Beyond the Tablet: Transforming Education with Nivi Sharma

Nivi Sharma Profile Pic.png

EPISODE 006 OF YOUNG AFRICAN ENTREPRENEUR FEATURES NIVI SHARMA, PRESIDENT AND MANAGING DIRECTOR OF BRCK AND CO-FOUNDER OF ELIMU.

You can connect with Nivi @AmkaKenya on Twitter.

“You can do hard things” is the motto painted on the main wall of the famed iHub in Nairobi, Kenya.

It’s a message that Nivi has taken to heart in her impassioned quest to use technology to improve education.

She got the idea for her first ed-tech startup after bumping into a government official outside an elevator. He had just gotten back from India, which was rolling out affordable educational tablets for schools. And, why couldn’t Kenya do the same? He wondered.

That’s exactly what Nivi set off to do.

In 2011, she and her partner Marie Githinji founded eLimu – which has become the leading digital educational content provider in East Africa.

Five years later, Nivi stepped away from an active role in eLimu to join BRCK as president and managing director of its education division. 

BRCK is a hardware provider with a wonderfully audacious goal: connecting Africa to the Internet.

I had a great conversation with Nivi. We talked about her early days at the iHub, the critical importance of teacher engagement in any edtech company,  and BRCK's "infrastructure as a service" approach.

She also shares what she’s learned from iHub founder Erik Hersman who is an invaluable mentor.

Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Nivi Sharma.

SHOW NOTES

  • When Nivi first realized that she had a knack for entrepreneurship. [00:10]
  • The origins of Nivi’s passion for education and technology. [1:20]
  • How Nivi got the idea for her first startup eLimu. [4:45]
  • The problem in primary school education that eLimu sought to solve. [6:13]
  • Even though Kenya has largely met its target in equipping 22,000 of its primary schools with 1.2mn education tablets, Nivi breaks down why it’s not a success in of itself. [08:43]
  • Nivi’s major takeaway from over 8 years experience with eLimu: the teacher’s user experience needs to be central in building any technological solution in education. [12:08]
  • Her biggest surprise while running eLimu. [14:18]
  • What has been the most validating experience from working with eLimu’s “digital warriors”? [18:00]
  • What have been the concrete results of eLimu? [19:56]
  • How eLimu makes money. [23:48]
  • Nivi’s untraditional transition to leading the educational division at BRCK which makes hardware adapted for African realities. [28:00]
  • The biggest takeaway shifting from content development to hardware and infrastructure. [33:56]
  • Nivi shares what she’s most excited about at BRCK for this year. [36:04]
  • How BRCK is adopting a “infrastructure as a service” approach to increasing its number of users. [37:54]
  • Nivi’s biggest failure in her career as an entrepreneur and what she learned from it. [39:57]
  • Her most influential mentors. [41:13]
  • Advice for finding mentors if you’re an aspiring African entrepreneur. [43:48]
  • The best advice she’s received as an entrepreneur and what she often tells people. [45:47]
  • Books that have shaped Nivi as an entrepreneur. [47:47]
  • Where Nivi would go in Africa to learn and improve her business. [49:14]
  • Her one piece of actionable advice to aspiring African entrepreneurs. [50:12]

RESOURCES MENTIONED

Victoria CrandallComment