Financing Status: Bootstrapped
Interview with: Co-Founder & CEO Vicky Ricaurte
Arukay, a Colombian edtech teaching K-12 students how to program, won the 2019 WeXchange Pitch Competition, an initiative founded in 2013 by IDB Lab with the aim of unleashing the growth potential of women entrepreneurs in STEM in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Arukay teaches computational thinking and coding through multi-disciplinary projects and challenges, and provides support through teacher training, digital content, and platform infrastructure. LAVCA interviewed Arukay Co-Founder and CEO Vicky Ricaurte for more insight into the company’s business model, the team’s vision as they aim to expand through Latin America, and Arukay’s current standing amidst the C19 crisis.
LAVCA: What is your background prior to starting Arukay?
Vicky Ricaurte: My Co-Founder Marcelo [Burbano] and I have been working together for more than fifteen years. Marcelo is passionate about education and finance, and all of my working experience has been related to technology.
Since 2000, Marcelo has held various positions in investment banking, strategic consulting, and corporates. He led the effort for Latin America of The Parthenon Group, one of the most recognized education strategy consulting firms based in Boston, and most recently served as the CFO of Colombian dairy company Alquería.
In my case, before becoming an edtech entrepreneur, I worked for some of the largest corporations in the US and in LatAm, including the international health insurance company Best Doctors, where I served as the Vice President of Customer Service, Electronic Channel, and Operations.
Why did you launch Arukay, and what specific problem is the startup trying to solve?
The world is changing at a fast pace, and those who are not literate in technology face the risk of becoming irrelevant in the labor market. 65% of current students will have jobs that do not exist today, and 80% will require coding abilities, according to the World Economic Forum. The main problem is that we are not teaching coding, the language of the future, to all of our children in a rigorous manner, the same way mathematics and reading are taught. Today, only one out of ten schools teaches coding. Arukay wants to teach coding and computational thinking to all K-12 students, no matter the languages they speak and where they are located.
What has been your experience bootstrapping Arukay?
One of the advantages of bootstrapping is that the startup is focused on how to make money, rather than how to spend it. When you self-finance your company, cash becomes as important as being creative and resourceful, since you’re forced to iterate more quickly.
What is the learning curve for teachers and schools that want to give their students access to Arukay, and how has C19 changed how schools think about their learning systems?
Any school can start implementing our learning system at any time during the academic year. Any teacher, no matter their previous experience or academic background, can start learning and teaching computational thinking. We provide a “Teacher Training Suite” as part of our platform, so teachers can get ready before teaching a class by reading the guide session and watching the tutorial videos so they can effectively start learning while teaching. Arukay provides a certification for teachers taking our programs; however, there is no need to get the certification prior to teaching a class. Our philosophy is that professors best learn by teaching.
[In terms of accessibility,] our learning system runs in any device, and it only requires a decent internet connection. We have implemented our learning solution in schools with strong and weak infrastructure, which has proven to be a challenge. For schools with few computers/tablets, we promote the “pairing programming” methodology where kids can share a device while also promoting co-creation and collaboration skills at solving specific problems.
Before C19, schools used to buy academic solutions and services right before the beginning of the school year. Now, schools know that we are living in unprecedented times, and they have to adjust their academic offer in order to meet students and parents’ expectations.
What has been the biggest challenge for the company to-date?
The biggest challenge has been to find a commercial process that follows an exponential path. Private and public school systems in the markets we operate in [Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, Mexico, Bolivia, and Spain] are not used to buying a curricular learning system in a completely digital way, and so far the decision makers still want to have some human interaction before choosing a service provider.
How did winning the 2019 WeXchange competition help advance Arukay’s mission?
WeXchange was a great experience for our team, and I would definitely recommend it to other founders. The program helped us refine our pitch and access a great network of entrepreneurs, while at the same time helping promote Arukay across the region.
Do you have any advice for women hoping to create and grow a business in Latin America?
Find a global problem and solve it with a scalable business model. Leverage the potential of exponential technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and new sensor technologies.