The talk of the startup scene: SA’s Eduze, the first TED VC-backed business in the world
Eduze is not unlike any other tech startup in South Africa trying to scale its business. But what separates the up-and-coming venture is that one of the world’s biggest nonprofits has given it its stamp of approval – in the form of financial backing.
The startup recently secured a venture capital investment from the TED organisation, which is best known for its annual conferences which cover a huge range of subjects and the TEDx spin-offs which are popular here. Neither Eduze nor TED will say how much the US-based investors have put into the company.
Eduze (which means “nearby” in Zulu and is pronounced “Ed-ooz-eh”) is a social digital media startup with the goal of letting South African content creators speak to the rest of the country through mobile videos, at no cost to everyday citizens.
We caught up with Eduze co-founder Charles Beuthin, 40, at his Braamfontein HQ. the relationship between the two organisations is sweetened by the fact that both have similar visions for the people they hope to impact.
“The concept for us was to create a free-to-access digital content library. We knew that mobile networks were probably never going to be at a place where they can zero-rate an entire experience and we and TED believe that video is the most powerful medium we have right now,” Beuthin explained to htxt.africa.
“Eduze has pioneered something extraordinary. Thanks to its technology, for the first time, entire swathes of the global population will have the ability to connect and explore, to discover and learn,” Deron Triff, TED’s Head of Media Distribution said when the investment was announced.
“It’s exactly this kind of breakthrough in connectivity that we seek in our work to spread ideas to the far corners of the world.”
Content, including TED videos and free connectivity on Eduze, is delivered through a lightweight box, slightly smaller than the average WiFi router, called the CLOX (Cloud in a Box). A CLOX comes with a library of content pre-loaded onto its internal drive, including a selection of education-focussed TED Talk videos, so users don’t need an internet connection for class. Regular updates are pushed out when an internet connection is available.
The fact that it’s battery-powered means it needs no electricity and won’t be affected by power outages.
Eduze has 43 active CLOX already placed in schools and learning institutions, with over 1 400 videos loaded.
The CLOX isn’t the first such microserver we’ve covered recently, and a very similar concept was launched a year ago for entertainment purposes into minibus taxis by Moovah. Eduze says that it plans to customise content on the CLOX for specific deployments.
Beuthin, a veteran of the music industry who was previously Head of Music at MTV Africa, says that he’s been working on the idea for almost three years.
“I came across all the problems people face with digital connectivity and I got the idea for Eduze,” Beuthin says. He registered his idea in 2013.
The ultimate goal is to see a CLOX in schools, public transport, buildings, hospitals, restaurants, community centres and other public spaces – not only in South Africa, but Africa as well. There are also commercial opportunities on the cards, Beuthin says, which could see CLOX installed as a value-add for restaurant customers, for example.
Right now, local pilot runs have been successful in Gauteng’s Amogaleng Buses, Tshwane University of Technology and in Maboneng Precinct. Eduze is now turning its focus towards schools, starting with 15 institutions and the TED money will help with plans for expansion into seven other countries on the continent.
Eduze is driven by optimal user experience, rather than technology, Buethin explained. And the company is very aware of responsible content curating.
“As long as there have been visual media, there has been a need for editors. So for us it’s the idea of having a place where one can provide content relevant to an African audience. That’s where we really see ourselves,” he explains.
On securing the TED investment
The deal between Eduze and TED was struck by its chairman and former senior executive at TED Deron Triff.
“He originally phoned me, following our request to license their content,” Buethin says. “It was from that phone call that he saw the potential of a TED/Eduze partnership.
“It was pretty incredible when it happened. It’s a privilege to work with them. They offer a considerable amount of talent and a network, beyond just the capital investment. We’ve had investment offers, but none of them really made sense,” he says.
“TED wants to see impact, more than return on investment. That’s where all the hard work goes right now and I think that’s a great position to be in. What we’re focused on is delivering on that more than on how we can monetise what we’re doing.”
In short, while Eduze is a for-profit business, Beuthin says that’s not what motivates the company to work.
“Money will naturally follow a vision. But if you’re not vision-led, you do things for the wrong reasons.”