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Villgro has announced a new addition to its investment and incubation portfolio – Vahan, a mobile education platform for low- income adults. Villgro has provided the company seed funding; the enterprise will also receive support through senior advisors who will provide strategic guidance to the business.

India adds 12 million people to the workforce every year. However, according to an Aspiring Minds report, it is estimated that around 50% of those people are unemployable due to a lack of English language and cognitive skills. Vahan is building a mobile application for making learning English affordable and accessible to India's massive low-income adult population. By helping people in the workforce learn better English more effectively, the startup will help them find employment in high growth sectors such as retail, hospitality, beauty and wellness, where English proficiency is important.

“After conducting research with people from low-income communities looking to learn English, we found that the lack of resources for practising was one of the biggest reasons why they weren’t able to learn the language effectively. That’s when the idea for Vahan was born – our goal is to mimic language immersion for low-income English language learners through our app,” says Madhav Krishna, founder of Vahan.

Vahan’s application is designed to work on basic, feature phones (75% of all cellphones in India) as well as smartphones, and supports full content customization/contextualization. Its goal is to help solve the skills gap problem in India and reach 15 million learners by 2020. The company is currently running pilots with two organisations in the development space – Magic Bus and LabourNet.

“This company represents the kind of enterprises that Villgro is excited about – a strong entrepreneur who has demonstrated a keen understanding of the sector; a deep commitment to creating impact; and a resolute desire to build a sustainable and scalable social business. We are optimistic about the way Vahan is using technology to reach students from low-income communities and believe this can have scaleable impact over the next few years,” says Kavita Rajagopalan, Investment Manager – Education, Villgro.

“We’re primarily looking for access to Villgro’s network of mentors and advisors which will be invaluable given that we’re a young organization with a focus on creating social impact at scale. They will also be able to help us form partnerships with relevant organizations in the education space,” added Madhav.

The education startup space is fast growing with more companies focussed on tech-enabled learning solutions for the poor, with an eye on scaling impact. Interest in education startups has also grown exponentially. In 2015, there were 18 impact investments in education, eight of them between $100,000 - $500,000 (Rs 65 lakh to Rs 3.25 crore); two-thirds of them in the K-12 segment.

Recognizing the need for investing in education startups, Villgro has been deepening its work in this space by incubating more education enterprises as well as working with partners like the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, which is the anchor funder for Villgro’s projects in the education sector. Villgro was selected by the Dell Family Foundation as part of their strategy to catalyse market based innovations in the education sector to impact learning outcomes for children living in urban poverty.

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