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  • Jabulile Sonya Ngwenya

South African Bred Empiras Global Academy Eyes African EdTech Market

PIC CAPTION: Gugu Ntuli, Co-Founder and CEO of Empiras Global Academy, an all-in-one platform offering educational solutions tailored to the unique needs of South African and African students. Image: Supplied / Empiras Global Academy

Empiras Global Academy is South Africa’s award winning premium education consultancy offering access to viable alternatives to conventional education, from home-schooling, studying abroad, and working abroad, allowing students to unleash the best version of themselves. This startup, founded by a formidable mother and daughter team, Gugu and Lungile Ntuli, is one of the shining beacons of light in South Africa’s booming EdTech market which is valued at $841.4 million, and set to grow significantly in the years ahead. AfricArena’s Jabulile Sonya Ngwenya catches up with Gugu to find out more about what makes their startup successful. 

“The company was founded by a team who individually benefitted from the very services offered,” says Gugu. Between them, Gugu and Lungile both have over three decades of study abroad experience at tertiary institutions in the UK, France, Germany, Australia, and the USA. In addition to this, they have over a decade's experience in the smooth transitioning of young people to homeschooling across three different curriculums of K-12 (USA), Cambridge (UK) and CAPS (SA). 

“We have personally benefited from the services offered by our company and we are compelled to extend these services to the broader African youth amid the growing educational demands on the continent,” Gugu says. 

Touching on South Africa’s educational challenges, Gugu says they realised that there is a need for what Empiras Global Academy offers within the South African and broader African educational market because of the unequal opportunities they see within the system. “South Africa's education system is facing significant challenges. It remains one of the most unequal school systems in the world, from primary education to tertiary institutions and the transition to the workforce. Access to quality education is hindered by disparities, and rising costs of tertiary education. Moreover, the limited supply of admissions for students at the country’s 26 public universities, to the annual demand of 890,000 matriculants, results in many matriculants unable to study further resulting in high youth unemployment rates. These challenges create a compelling rationale for the birth of Empiras Global Academy, to focus on homeschooling, study abroad and work abroad consultancy, to address the educational needs of South Africans and African students alike.”

The covid pandemic exacerbated the situation into a crisis, and Gugu registered Empiras Global Academy as a sole founder during the pandemic, and subsequently activated the company in 2023. “By the time the company was activated, online education had become the norm. This benefited our company and resulted in a substantial demand for our offering.” Lungile joined the startup as a co-founder and Head of Tech in 2024. 

“Our USP is that we are an all-in-one platform offering educational solutions tailored to the unique needs of South African and African students, including homeschooling support, access to US sports scholarships, technical skill programs, and study abroad opportunities in 15 countries across Asia, Europe and the Americas,” Gugu shares. 

Gugu shares that she and her daughter are passionate about what they do because “through our experience, we understand the transformative impact that education has on the socio-economic status of individuals. Young people who have an education and skills are able to provide for themselves and their families, thus decreasing poverty in the country. This is the reason we have a passion for what we do.” 

Working in the EdTech industry keeps edtech founders on their toes, and it is no different for this mother and daughter duo. “The majority of our day is spent on generating new leads, consulting with our existing clients, communicating with potential partners such as universities, embassies, and sponsors. We also do a lot of admin, including building and maintaining our digital platforms, financials and more.” 

Empiras Global Academy won the Best FemTech Startup Award at the AfricArena Johannesburg Award and this had a positive ripple effect on their startup. “The Best Fem-Tech Startup award has introduced us to a new circle of potential partners, clientele, and funders, whose support is contributing to the scaling of the business,” says Gugu. 

Gugu states that during their fundraising rounds for 2024, they are looking at raising R1 million as “these funds will be used for operations and software systems, recruiting full-time consultants, and establishing partnerships with local and global institutions.”

Working in a funding winter has been interesting, she notes. “Fortunately, our business model has allowed us to generate profit from day one, albeit being modest. As such, the funding winters only slowed our progress as opposed to halting our activities altogether.” This, she says, is a saving grace.

Pondering on her startup journey so far, with a mission to provide high quality, tailored education for South African and African students, Gugu shares that being in the EdTech industry is challenging at times, especially when spearheading a new venture that requires technical assistance in order to stay ahead of the competition. She says, “We have experienced technical and capacity issues, which is why we have brought Lungile on board as our technical head. We have also had difficulty with managing the high demand for our services, which is why we are focusing on automation to assist us in managing the load.” Many founders, when they get an idea to start something either hesitate, vacillate or wait for the right time. Gugu smiles and says, “Just start. This is the best advice a mentor gave me.” Looking to the future, Gugu says, “As Empiras Global Academy grows, we have future plans to expand our operations to popular Southern African countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe. We are also looking to build relationships with at least 40 universities, especially in non-traditional, more accessible markets for African students. Finally, we hope to have reached our short-term goal of assisting a total of 1000 young people across our services.”

Gugu says, founders looking to start an EdTech startup must “pay attention to market research and have a deep passion for the development of youth through education.”

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