Akowe wants to fix Africa’s broken certificate system with blockchain


Share post:

The crypto industry has long been criticized for its disconnection with the real world, but there are players who try to show that the underlying blockchain technology can solve some of our most pressing challenges in today’s society — especially in regions where basic infrastructure is lacking.

Akowe, a Lagos-based startup that is part of TechCrunch Disrupt’s 2023 Startup Battlefield 200, has developed a blockchain-based platform for issuing verifiable academic records. Speaking with TechCrunch in an interview, Akowe’s founder, Ayodeji Agboola, suggested that there’s a big demand for digital certificate verification systems in sub-Saharan Africa partly due to the difficulty of reissuing academic records and universities’ possessiveness of them.

“The university prides itself on the fact that a student passes through their school and that the certificate is issued to that member. They issue the certificate usually only once. If it gets lost, most times they don’t want to reissue; what they would give you is an affidavit. That singular nature of universities makes them very protective of certificates,” Agboola said.

In 2018, the founder, who ran a digital marketing business, started training a cohort of small business owners to use Facebook. By 2019, the program had trained 30,000 individuals and needed to prove people’s completion of the course.

“We couldn’t find a very simple tool to use, so I just decided, you know what? Let’s build this thing,” he said. “So this was late 2020. We built it out in three weeks. We demoed it. We tested it for our own certificates. It worked fine. I said, yeah, we’re in business.”

“In Nigeria, in Africa, [blockchain] needs to be a utility that people can actually see and use and solve their problems,” Agboola added.

The part where blockchain plays a key role is storage. To start, organizations upload their certificate templates and a list of recipients’ names, upon which Akowe automatically generates digital copies of the academic records for each individual. Say a recruiter or a visa officer needs to verify a person’s college certificate, they can then check all that metadata — including the URL of the certificate’s hosting location (usually a school’s website), university names, student names, courses, grades and graduating year — on the blockchain that Akowe uses.

Akowe has used Hyperledger, a permissioned blockchain, in the past but is now fiddling with a new ledger database solution released by Amazon, QLDB, which allows organizations to create centrally managed records.

“The immutable ledger gives it the security, the tamper-proof nature, and all of that you actually need so that you can then be very sure to verify anyone who wants to verify the credentials,” the founder explained.

Akowe, which means “clerk” in Yoruba, is still run by Agboola as a one-man, bootstrapped shop to this day with help from contract developers. It offers its platform to universities for free but takes a cut from the fees universities charge users. It’s in the final stages of setting up pilots with two institutions and is in talks with 15 others, according to the founder.

The challenge of the startup lies not in the technological part but rather in user acquisition. “In a private university, there is a lot more understanding of the business process. It’s profit-oriented and all of that . . . but public universities are where the bulk of people go. These are the most prestigious universities in Nigeria . . . and there’s a lot of red tape there that you need to navigate,” the founder said, adding that he’s been cautious with framing his business pitches because of the negative image of blockchain.

“In the beginning, we were always very open to say, hey, blockchain, blockchain. But we then found that [the universities] had a negative connotation or understanding of the concept because they had seen what happened with crypto, and as long as they are concerned, they are all one and the same. So we stopped putting blockchain ahead in the conversation,” he said.

“But when the conversation arises around safety, data, security, data, and privacy, then we say, this is what we’re doing. And it’s very different from crypto and all of that. And then that conversation is a lot better to have.”

Corrected the article to reflect that Akowe is Lagos-based.



Source link

Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

Recent posts

Related articles

Tesla releases the Cybertruck, Sam Altman officially returns to OpenAI, and Evernote cripples its free plan

Hi, folks, welcome to Week in Review (WiR), TechCrunch’s newsletter that highlights some of the more noteworthy...

Shein a light

Welcome to the TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by the daily TechCrunch+ column where...

Deal Dive: Betting on beauty fads is big business

As a woman in her 20s with an Instagram account, I’ve witnessed the explosive rise and destigmatization...

I’m watching ‘AI upscaled’ Star Trek and it isn’t terrible

For years, dedicated Star Trek fans have been using AI in an attempt to make a version...

Robotics Q&A with Meta’s Dhruv Batra

For the next few weeks, TechCrunch’s robotics newsletter Actuator will be running Q&As with some of the...

It’s time for a heat check on the subscription economy and its proposed value to customers

Vijay Sundaram Contributor Vijay Sundaram is chief strategy officer at Zoho, where he drives corporate strategy, execution, channel management,...

23andMe says hackers accessed ‘significant number’ of files about users’ ancestry

Genetic testing company 23andMe announced on Friday that hackers accessed around 14,000 customer accounts in the company’s...

Ev startup Fisker cut its 2023 production target for the fourth time

Fisker, the California-based EV startup, cut its annual production guidance in an effort to free up $300...