Edtech startup Youthopia and its outcome-based learning

  • Teaches soft skills in complement to academic focus of large edtech players
  • Invested US$24k personally, raised US$12k from family, friends to build product

Manu Menon, cofounder & CEO of Youthopia (2nd from right) with some faculty members of UPSI University who helped him craft the engaging content of his modules.

In a world that is constantly connected, it is especially tough for parents to regulate screen time for their kids. How much is too much? And, is it even realistic to limit device access to a bare minimum when having digital skills could mean ‘survival of the fittest’ today and in the future? While knowing how to navigate through mobile applications is innate to the modern young, it is the link to the real world that edtech startup, Youthopia, aims to make happen.

Youthopia is a web-based platform offering bite-sized learning modules through gamification focusing on the 4Cs – critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration. Based on the 21st Century Skills Framework by the World Economic Forum, students must acquire 16 skills spread across the three main groups of foundational literacies, competencies and character qualities.

Literacy is covered by schools but the latter two areas is where Youthopia hopes to make a difference. “We are currently in Phase 1 and we are focusing on competencies which are the 4Cs. We are starting off with critical thinking and communication, and be introducing creativity and collaboration next year,” said Manu Menon, the chief executive officer and cofounder of Youthopia which he launched in July 2019.

The cofounder, Nathalia Lim, acts as the company’s product manager equipped with her past design experience for companies like CIMB and Nestle. As for Manu, following a long career in advertising which included leadership roles in international agencies, his foray into the world of education technology certainly piques interest of the curious onlooker. “After doing almost 10 years of digital marketing, I sort of got burnt out in the field,” he candidly shares.

Keen to do something more fulfilling, he drew inspiration from his stint between 1994 and 1998 that he had spent working in education. “I was working with a company that focused on learning skills as well as English language literacy courses. The four years left an indelible mark because I saw how some of the students really improve their confidence levels after undergoing the programme.”

Manu received an early boost through his participation in Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation’s (MDEC) Founders Grindstone Pitching Competition, where Youthopia was one of three startups awarded a full scholarship to Draper University’s virtual entrepreneurship programme.

“It will help us in two main ways. More knowledge and mentorship from Silicon Valley veterans and the potential to get some funding from their venture arm,” he says.

 

Building the bridge from screen-time to real-world skills

As a parent himself, Manu noticed a prominent gap between the academic skills his two children learnt attending national primary school and the soft skills they needed beyond the schooling environment. Many parents shared his sentiments – despite attending enrichment classes outside of school, their children struggled to reap real life applications. “It gave me the impetus to start looking for a solution and that is basically the birth of the idea for Youthopia.”

As of now, the Youthopia team is made up of four people. Although completely self-funded, Manu is planning to raise funds in the near future to scale up faster. “I pumped in close to US$24,100 (RM100,000) of my own money and raised a small friends and family round of US$12,050 (RM50,000) to reach the point of a commercially ready product.”

Parents and students can access Youthopia’s content for RM48 per month. Each module is kept succinct and students can complete one capsule in less than ten minutes. “Our modules have three sections – an explanation of skills taught, why it is important, how students can sharpen that skill. After reading the explanation, they are given a quiz or game that requires them to apply the knowledge they had just learnt.”

The platform is formatted as a progressive web application (PWA) which is known to be easier to build and faster to scale, students can access the platform on a smartphone or laptop. While many of its competitors offer pre-recorded content with lecturers and assignments, Youthopia recently went live in September and takes a different route from its peers. “We’ve taken the approach of outcome-based learning. So we are looking at self-based learning through quizzes and short problem-solving games to sharpen critical thinking of the child.”Edtech startup Youthopia and its outcome-based learning

Youthopia’s engaging content is created in together with a team from University Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) comprising of an associate professor and senior lecturers.  For example, one of the games called “Crossing the Chasm” tests students’ analytical reasoning skill and some Math skills. “You have 17 minutes to get four people across a bridge. Only two characters can cross at the same time and each character takes different times to cross. So students need to figure out which combination works best,” explained Manu.

Like many other businesses, Youthopia is faced with Covid-19 business challenges. “Our initial business model was to offer a hybrid learning experience comprising of online platform and learning camps. However, with the pandemic blocking our plan to run workshops with the students, we had to pivot to an online-only model,” he shared, quickly adding that they were offering a special CMCO promo as well (pic, right).

His digital marketing skills have proved handy here in terms of Youthopia’s go-to-market strategy. “This is right up my alley given my 10 years of experience. Using optimisation techniques, we hope to bring down the cost of customer acquisition over time, which in turn will improve profitability.”

On a macro scale, edtech companies have seen a low number of exits historically. But with Covid-19 being the world’s biggest ongoing edtech experiment, the area has seen a popularity rise due to a growth spurt in remote learning. In Indonesia, Ruangguru raised US$ 150 million last December. Meanwhile, India’s tech ecosystem has also given rise to prominent players like unicorn Byju’s valued at US$10 billion and Unacademy having raised US$ 150 million in funding just last month.

Youthopia’s plan is to gain traction and eventually attract the attention of bigger players in the space for growth opportunities. “A lot of big players out there are focused on academic or hard skills, so I think we can complement that quite well,” says Manu.

 

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