Kukua — our investment in the $2.5M round backing a female-led team empowering the next generation of African children
I’m thrilled to announce firstminute’s investment in Kukua, the first pan-African education media franchise. The $2.5m seed round was led by Echo VC, the leading Africa-focused venture capital firm, alongside Founders Factory, Kima Ventures, Burda Media, as well as a strong group of angels including Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen (Former VP of mobile at Uber and Dropbox).
Building the biggest education franchise in the world
Kukua is building a pan-African education franchise to address child illiteracy, one of the most pressing issues in the continent. Kukua’s media property Sema, an animated character who’s a young and resourceful African heroine with “an extraordinary purpose”, defines the franchise.
Kukua is using Sema’s character to build a suite of educational tools starting with game-based apps for smartphones that teach children reading, writing and maths. Sema’s “learning universe” will eventually expand its digital content into a TV show, books, videos, consumer products and experiential. The founder’s vision is for Kukua to become “the Disney of learning” and to empower hundreds of millions of children to learn through magical experiences.
At firstminute, we aim to invest in bold bets with the potential to monopolise an entire market. We believe Kukua has a long-shot opportunity of building an education-media empire in a frontier market.
Lucrezia Bisignani, or Lulu as many close to her call her, is the founder and heartbeat of Kukua. I met Lulu for the first time in 2011 on an expedition trip in the Arctic when she was still training as an actress in Oxford and building various education-focused organisations. I was immediately drawn to her resilience and mission driven ambition.
It was after her time at Singularity University, the NASA based program focused on applying exponential technologies to tackle global challenges, that Lulu decided to focus on her moonshot: solving child literacy by leveraging the rise of mobile technology and her passion for entertainment. After spending time living across Africa to study the illiteracy problem and testing early prototypes of the Sema apps, Lulu built a diverse, female-led team based between London, Nairobi and Italy.
From left to right: Magda Kanjejo (Head of Content) , Lulu Bisignani (Founder & CEO) and Clara Muthoni (Head of Growth)
Kukua is also working with a team of children’s media producers and literacy experts, including Claudia Lloyd, the BAFTA-Award winning producer of Tinga Tinga Tales, and Marielle Henault who previously led animation franchises at Walt Disney and Warner Bros.
Kukua is solving a world-changing problem
Between 2015 and 2050, Africa will add 1.3 billion people, more than doubling its current population of 1.2 billion. As part of the continent’s phenomenal population growth, UNICEF predicts that 2 billion babies will be born in Africa over the next 33 years. This means that by 2050, 40% of under-fives and more than a third of all children under 18 will be African.
Combining the continent’s growing population with the exponential rise of mobile technology and improvements in infrastructure, Africa could become the next century’s economic growth powerhouse.
Yet education loopholes in sub-Saharan Africa continue to threaten the future of entire generations with more than 85% of children in sub-Saharan Africa not learning the minimum education.
Empowering the next generation of African children with basic literacy and numeracy skills and with the confidence to fulfil their full potential is Kukua’s mission.
An African heroine to teach literacy & numeracy
Today, Kukua has built a host of game-based educational apps that cover 3 years of primary school curriculum which teach children how to read, write and do basic math. Kukua’s approach is to combine proven literacy methodologies, such as early focus on phonics, with locally-inspired storytelling, engaging games and animated entertainment.
Early traction from in-app tracking of SEMA Run, the first of the series of SEMA apps, is already demonstrating the efficacy of the company’s approach; the 30,000 children in Kenya who use the app three times a week for an average of 30 minutes have shown significant improvements in their letter sounds’ recognition in Early Grade Reading Assessments. Watch the video here!
Children in Kenya playing SEMA Run
The “learning universe” that Kukua is building center around Sema, described as “an ordinary African girl, born with an extraordinary purpose”. Sema is a creative and resourceful fictional character who builds technological inventions from her secret laboratory in her hut to fight an AI robot trying to steal all the knowledge from her people’s village.
The next frontier for children’s entertainment
The next frontier of the children’s media market holds massive opportunity in the ability to monetize one media property on a 360° scale: think Warner Brother’s Harry Potter, Entertainment One’s Peppa Pig, or Disney’s many properties such as Frozen. Globally, the entertainment & media industry is worth $480bn and character licensing & merchandising another $118bn. Peppa Pig, one the most beloved children’s characters in the world, makes $2bn from licensing and merchandising deals alone.
And with the rise of black superheroes, as shown with the latest Marvel movie Black Panther (now Marvel’s number one box-office record and a success worldwide), it’s also clear that there’s a path for Sema, the little African heroine, to play a significant role in the $1.2tn Afro-American consumer market.
I believe Kukua has the potential to unlock true long-term value both in terms of helping create a generation of future leaders, and in generating returns for its investors.
In a recent article, Melinda Gates said: “To change the world, it helps to get capital into the hands of people who have a different vision for it.” That is why Kukua is also my first angel investment (alongside firstminute).