Connect The Dots

How LetzConnect, a Cisco LaunchPad portfolio company, is assisting universities in operating online through its Virtual University Platform.

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How LetzConnect, a Cisco LaunchPad portfolio company, is assisting universities in operating online through its Virtual University Platform.

Cisco LaunchPad portfolio startup LetzConnect – According to the India Skills Report 2021, only 45.9 percent of youth are considered highly employable, down significantly from 46.2 percent in 2020. While several factors contribute to the country’s unemployment rate, the primary cause is a lack of skills taught in college curricula. In India, schools and colleges are failing to equip students with the necessary skills to succeed in today’s job market. On the other hand, it is difficult for businesses and industries to recruit qualified personnel.

Praveen Ganesh and Aarati Ghana Shyam saw an opportunity in 2016, with the advent of social media and mobile penetration. They founded LetzConnect Technologies Pvt Ltd, an organic educational networking portal based in Chennai that assists students in upskilling for the right jobs while also showcasing qualified candidates to corporates. Later, the duo recognised the importance of a compelling use case in order to retain the platform’s student community. This resulted in the revolutionary Virtual University Block (VUB), one of the largest intranet and networking platforms for colleges in India, which combines an intranet, a virtual classroom, and a learning management system (LMS).

Building an AI-enabled SaaS-driven model for education

Prior to founding LetzConnect, Praveen worked for Enfinity Renewable Energy’s Indian subsidiary and Acme Tele Power Ltd. By contrast, Aarati collaborated with CSK Digital App, TekPlay System, Beroe Inc., HT Media, and Reliance Industries. Recognizing that less than 20% of Indian undergraduates possess employable skills, the duo founded LetzConnect to address this issue through a focus on student connectivity, learnability, and employability.

LetzConnect developed a VUB in 2017 that can be deployed effectively and expeditiously by an institution. “We aim to connect all stakeholders in a college, including students, faculty, and administrators, on a single platform to facilitate communication and provide academic support, e-learning content, upskilling opportunities, and employment, while maintaining strict data security and encryption,” says Praveen Ganesh, Founder and CEO of LetzConnect.

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Everything a college needs to run online

The VUB platform analyses each student and provides them with content that is tailored to their specific needs. Additionally, it includes numerous value-added features such as a Smartboard, chat, a library with over 5 million e-contents, certification courses, government scholarships, and opportunities for higher education. The platform’s critical features include the following:

  1. Community building: Students and faculty can digitally interact within the campus for effective communication and engagement, thereby fostering a sense of community.
  2. State-of-the-art LMS: The platform engages learners with a consumer-like experience, micro-learning (three to five-minute videos) that fits into busy schedules, and a mobile app so that learning can happen anywhere, anytime, and on any device. It also assigns learning paths that are student-specific.
  3. Virtual classrooms: The platform supports virtual classrooms with sophisticated, interactive video tools, editing capabilities, virtual coding labs, in-video quizzing, live lectures by the faculty and auto-transcription to facilitate and support the learning process.
  4. Personalised experience: The AI-enabled conversational chatbot PAL (Personal Assistant for Learning) aggregates, curates and disseminates, thereby mapping the right content to the right user, enabling maximum conversion for the university’s offering.
  5. International collaboration: LetzConnect has partnered with internationally recognised partners for academic content, certified courses and government initiatives. It also provides last-mile connectivity for students for internships and jobs. A feature called ‘Industry Connect’ also provides the latest technology advancements from leading companies and access to various industry experts.

“Although COVID-19 accelerated the move to online platforms, we envisioned the Virtual University Block four years ago. It’s a one-stop-shop to help institutions seamlessly operate online the way they did offline,” says Aarati Ghana Shyam, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, LetzConnect.

Jointly onboarding schools with Cisco LaunchPad

LetzConnect joined Cisco LaunchPad earlier this year, a Cisco India accelerator programme that supports and nurtures technology-enabled startups through co-development, new business models, and joint GTMs. It is the programme’s first selection of an edtech startup since its inception.

LetzConnect is pursuing opportunities across over 500 schools and colleges in collaboration with Cisco’s sales team. Cisco LaunchPad is assisting the startup with strategic mentoring, sales mentoring, and technical support.

LetzConnect is also currently integrating its LMS platform with Cisco’s Webex education connector and other Cisco offerings, ensuring a more seamless transition of screens, databases, and other platform components. The Webex Education Connector integrates Webex’s industry-leading classroom, distance learning, and project collaboration experiences directly into LMS platforms. It integrates Webex Meetings and Webex TeamsTM natively with LMS platforms. Webex Meetings enables you to host classroom instruction and meetings online. Through messaging, file sharing, whiteboarding, and calling, Webex Teams connects educators, students, and faculty staff.

From campus connectivity to complete virtual solution

In an already crowded edtech market, what makes LetzConnect stand out is that it provides an all-inclusive solution. “We built the Virtual University Block from the user perspective rather than from the product perspective. We have students on the platform for four years, which helps us get a 360-degree view of their capabilities. Through assignments, hackathons, etc, we can understand their work ethic and map them to the right jobs. There’s no investment in retaining them and it’s also a great gateway for companies to reach a large community of engaged students,” says Aarati.

LetzConnect’s initial application rollout began in January 2018 for iOS, Android, and Web platforms. Today, the application is available in 270 colleges across India, with over 300,000 users. Around 3,000 colleges have registered with LetzConnect, and the application will be launched in these colleges, which span 22 cities, over the next year. Additionally, the startup is in the process of rolling out the application to ten universities in the United Kingdom.

When the pandemic struck, it became difficult to communicate the platform’s importance and functionalities to colleges, corporations, and other key stakeholders. The team decided to expand the platform’s functionality by adding two critical layers: a learning management system and a virtual classroom. The platform quickly became a necessity, and colleges approached us to onboard their students. LetzConnect has evolved into a comprehensive virtual university solution, with over 75 colleges in Tamil Nadu alone signing up for the platform for the current academic year.

Expanding focus to the education sector as a whole

LetzConnect has expanded its user base for higher education after receiving seed funding and a pre-series A from SucSEED Ventures. It has now launched its application in markets throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. Recently, it announced the formation of a partnership to launch the product in Australia and New Zealand.

The startup was funded through the MHRD’s NEAT programme, which supports the ministry’s skilling mission for its 10,900 affiliated universities. Additionally, it has completed a pilot project in collaboration with Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Unit and Malaysian Skill Development Agency.

“We are focusing on introducing the product to schools and launching our LetzConnect Smart School program. The program will be initially launched across schools in Tamil Nadu this year and to other states early next year. Our key focus would continue to be in the education sector, both in schools and higher education,” says Praveen.

Aarati adds, “We know that the stakeholders are different for colleges and schools, but the SaaS block is the same. To add to that, COVID-19 has completely changed the game. Moving your college or school online is no longer a ‘should we’, it’s basic hygiene. You’re not planning for the future if you’re not online.”

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