The college textbook industry is well-known for being overpriced. New editions force students to buy or rent brand new textbooks every year. And digital options have often been costly as well. That’s where ecoText comes in.
This Deal to Watch wants to disrupt digital textbook subscriptions by partnering with educational institutions to offer affordable subscriptions to students. And the institutions benefit from data analytics on how their students are performing and grasping the material.
We sat down with founders Joel Nkounkou (CEO) and Nelson Thomas (CMO) about their vision for academic equity, what separates them from the competition, and where ecoText is headed…
Can you give us a brief elevator pitch for your company?
Joel & Nelson: ecoText delivers digital textbooks and academic resources to work alongside our technology to optimize the learning process and increase accessibility. The product invites academic collaboration like never before, using analytics to close the gap within the classroom and provide modern students with modern tools. We execute this by introducing an “ecoSystem” which provides educational, economic, and environmental value to students, educators, and content owners.
What inspired you to take the leap and build this company?
Joel: Parents and students around the country are expected to budget $1,200 a year for the books they need for a better education. As a not-so-removed engineering student, I consistently felt this financial burden during our collegiate experiences. Alongside increasing prices, most of my peers were disappointed with their rare utilization and inability to sell the title back at a modest price. The question was posed, how can students get their books economically while maximizing its engagement? That was the fundamental vision that started ecoText as we sought to introduce a disruptive perspective into this market space.
What past experiences prepared you to start, build, and lead your company?
Joel: I started my career in technology at a young age, working in technical laboratories, spending several summer internships in silicon valley and submerging myself in the world of product development, design and management. From an abundance of projects, organizations, boards, I grew a passion for building technical solutions that have a social innovative impact.
What is your vision for the future of the industry you are operating in?
Joel & Nelson: Our grand vision is a future where students can access their textbooks on-demand, digitally, and from any device. What was once seen as “un-traditional” mechanisms of learning have become the new tradition. Academia has several depths and dimensions beyond the classic textbook. Modern students need modern tools to leverage modern resources. We are positioning ecoText to be capable of unlocking the worldwide classroom, allowing developing scholars to spark academic insights beyond classroom borders.
Who is on your team and how did you come together?
Joel & Nelson: Our team is a diverse group of change-makers that span disciplines and professional backgrounds of tech, business, analytics, marketing, and finance. The majority of the team met at the University of New Hampshire through classes, athletic circles, groups, and organizations while others were introduced through internships in Silicon Valley. We all had a common identity and recognition that a change as it regards to obtaining one’s textbooks was necessary. As ideas became slide decks, customer surveys validated business models, and designs turned into code, the venture grew and the current team members were adopted as a function of such.
Do you have any competition, if so, how do you differentiate?
Nelson: There are some both direct and indirect competitors in this industry. However, where ecoText really thrives is two-fold. First, we look to optimize the learning process by building features and functionality into our application that allow students to work together and collaborate on readings and assignments right within the margins. We also provide educators with classroom analytics that bridge the gap between themselves and their students so they can understand exactly what students understood from the prescribed assignments and how to better cater to the curriculum the next day of classes to fill that gap.
Secondly, we look to build a 1-to-1 relationship with students, faculty, and the institutions to understand exactly what they need us to provide them in regard to learning materials. We want to build a library that is going to be used and accessed by a member of our ecoSystem.
What does your business model look like?
Joel & Nelson: Our business model is dynamic to fit the modern student, and our priority is to heighten the accessibility and convenience for students. We accomplish this by delivering 3 tiers of our model. “Open Library” allows students & faculty to take advantage of our catalog of Open Educational Resources, academic journals & articles, and professor specific documents that they can upload. Additionally, we offer a “Premium” account at a flat rate price point that unlocks access to the traditional classic textbooks. Our third tier focuses on B2B partnerships, extending the “premium” access to every student within the department or university that is structured to be built into tuition.
What brought you to equity crowdfunding and how do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?
Joel & Nelson: Equity crowdfunding is unique in that we can raise funds quickly while growing our network and support systems in parallel. For this funding round to be successful, we needed fast access to financial resources that would grant us the ability to accelerate product development. This funding round will catapult our team to the next level where we can effectively engage with students and publishers from across the country.
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?
Joel & Nelson: At ecoText, we pride ourselves on our diverse perspectives on the problem we are solving. We come from varied academic disciplines which gives us the ability to deliver the best value to all scholars. We understand the problems facing modern students because we were modern students who came together to deliver a solution that provides academic equity for generations of scholars to come. With that motivating us, we are passionate about bringing the change needed in higher education and providing more opportunities for students around the country. edTech is demanding a disruptive change and is a vertical that should be on everyone’s radar.
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? Have you set any future goals for the company?
Joel & Nelson: The next several years are bold, exciting, and inviting for ecoText. We are looking to grow not only in volume of our library of content but extending our growth beyond borders. We have positioned ourselves to connect developing scholars regardless of their location to collaborate and develop academic insights. ecoText unlocks engagement, allowing the classroom to be more dynamic today while fulfilling the evolving institutional needs of tomorrow.
We are excited to see where Joel and Nelson take their team. ecoText is currently raising on Netcapital.
About: Olivia Strobl
Olivia comes to KingsCrowd with a background in venture capital and technology. She spent time at Glasswing Ventures, an AI-focused venture fund in Boston, before joining the KingsCrowd team. There she helped develop machine learning algorithms for the opportunity qualification of preseed and seed-stage startup companies. Prior to her time at Glasswing, Olivia worked in a lab studying the neural correlates of attention. She holds a degree in Neuroscience from Wellesley College.