- Lagos-based startup Akowe has developed a blockchain-based platform that promises to revolutionize the issuance and verification of academic records.
- Central to Akowe’s innovative approach is the use of blockchain technology.
- Many academic decision-makers view blockchain skeptically, fearing a connection to cryptocurrencies’ volatile and speculative world.
In a world where technological innovation continually reshapes our lives, there remains a persistent problem in many parts of the globe: the antiquated and often cumbersome process of verifying academic credentials. This challenge is particularly pronounced in regions with inadequate infrastructure, such as sub-Saharan Africa. However, one Lagos-based startup, Akowe, is poised to change the game.
Akowe has developed a blockchain-based platform that promises to revolutionize the issuance and verification of academic records. As part of TechCrunch Disrupt’s 2023 Startup Battlefield, Akowe’s journey is an inspiring testament to the potential of technology to address real-world challenges. This article delves into the origins of Akowe, innovative blockchain solutions, challenges, and vision for the future.
The birth of Akowe: A solution to a real-world problem
At the heart of Akowe’s story is its founder, Ayodeji Agboola. Before embarking on this groundbreaking venture, Agboola had a background in digital marketing. His journey into academic verification began when he initiated a program to train small business owners. By 2019, the program had successfully trained 30,000 individuals. However, a significant obstacle emerged – the need to verify the course completion for these individuals.
Agboola encountered a common problem in the education sector – the lack of a streamlined and reliable system for verifying academic records. Traditional certificate systems are often plagued by inefficiency, bureaucracy, and a reluctance to reissue certificates if they are lost. This challenge is not unique to Nigeria but affects many regions, especially those with limited access to technology.
Frustrated by the absence of a straightforward solution, Agboola decided to take matters into his own hands. In late 2020, he set out to create a platform to address this problem. The result was Akowe, a name that means “clerk” in Yoruba, a language spoken in parts of Nigeria.
Blockchain technology: A game-changer for academic verification
Central to Akowe’s innovative approach is the use of blockchain technology. Originally designed to support cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, blockchain has found applications across various industries. Akowe recognized its potential to bring transparency and security to academic record verification.
The critical challenge Akowe sought to address was issuing and verifying academic certificates. In the traditional system, universities issue certificates, often only once, and face challenges reissuing them if they are lost or damaged. This practice reflects the universities’ desire to protect the integrity of their certificates. As Agboola aptly put it, “The university prides itself on the fact that a student passes through their school and that the certificate is issued to that member.”
Akowe’s solution, powered by blockchain, simplifies this process. Organizations can upload certificate templates and recipient names to the platform. Akowe then automatically generates digital copies of academic records for each individual. These digital records are stored on the blockchain, ensuring tamper-proof, secure, and transparent verification. If a recruiter or a visa officer needs to verify a person’s college certificate, they can access all the metadata on the blockchain. This information includes the URL of the certificate’s hosting location (typically a school’s website), university names, student names, courses, grades, and graduating year.
Initially, Akowe used Hyperledger, a permissioned blockchain, to underpin its platform. However, the startup has since experimented with Amazon’s QLDB (Quantum Ledger Database), a centrally managed ledger database solution. This shift demonstrates Akowe’s commitment to enhancing its platform’s security and tamper-proof nature, which is essential for gaining trust in the academic verification process.
A Unique Business Model
Akowe’s approach to generating revenue is as innovative as its technology. The startup offers its platform to universities for free, a strategic move to promote adoption. In return, Akowe takes a percentage of the fees universities charge users for certificate verification. This symbiotic model not only incentivizes universities to join the platform but also ensures that Akowe’s success is directly tied to the number of users it can attract.
The Challenge of User Acquisition
While Akowe’s technology and business model appear promising, it faces a considerable hurdle in user acquisition. The startup must navigate the complexities of public universities, where bureaucratic red tape can slow the adoption of new technologies. Public universities are often where the bulk of students in Nigeria receive their education, making them a critical target for Akowe’s platform.
Additionally, the negative perception of blockchain technology, stemming from its association with cryptocurrency, has posed challenges. Many academic decision-makers view blockchain skeptically, fearing a connection to cryptocurrencies’ volatile and speculative world.
Agboola has taken a pragmatic approach to address these concerns. Instead of leading with the term “blockchain,” Akowe focuses its pitches on safety, data security, and privacy. By framing the conversation in terms of these critical aspects, Akowe aims to overcome the negative associations while emphasizing its technology’s substantial benefits in academic verification.
The Future of Akowe: Bridging the Gap in Academic Verification
As Akowe continues its journey to revolutionize academic verification in sub-Saharan Africa, the startup remains driven by a vision of creating a more efficient, transparent, and accessible system for all. Its challenges, particularly in user acquisition and changing perceptions, are significant. However, its innovative use of blockchain technology and commitment to addressing real-world problems set it apart as a promising force for change.
In an era where technological innovation accelerates at an unprecedented pace, solutions like Akowe’s remind us that technology’s most significant potential lies in addressing the pressing challenges societies worldwide face. The traditional systems that have long served academia are being disrupted. In their place, we witness the birth of platforms like Akowe. Poised to usher in a new era of efficiency and transparency in verifying academic records.
As we look to the future, Akowe’s journey is an inspiring testament to the power of innovation and perseverance. It underscores the immense potential for technology to bridge gaps, empower individuals, and transform archaic systems into models of efficiency and reliability. Akowe’s story is one to watch. It promises to revolutionize academic verification in sub-Saharan Africa and potentially worldwide. As it navigates the complex terrain of traditional systems and ushers in a new era of transparency and trust in academia.