LumenEd EDUKWEST Startup Profile

Startup Profile: LumenEd

Connecting classrooms across the globe via the Internet has become the new pen pal program, and initiatives like Skype in the Classroom and its instant translation feature are certainly leading the way in developed countries. But what about schools in areas that don’t have access to reliable Internet or even electricity?

LumenEd wants to connect students in developing countries with classrooms in the U.S. through a device called The Bright Orange Box. And you can support it via Kickstarter.

Introduce your startup and give a short description of what you are doing.

LumenEd is working towards overcoming infrastructural barriers to quality education in the developing world. We want to empower students, teachers and schools across the world by providing them access to digital educational resources and a platform to share their stories.

Who are the founders, how did you meet, what are your different roles in the startup. How was the idea for your startup born?

LumenEd Team
Top: Thomas Kreek and Prakash Paudel. Bottom: Henry Harboe, Saksham Khosla and Shiva Mandala

LumenEd was founded by five students in April 2013 at Oberlin College. Prakash, Shiva and Saksham met as freshmen at Oberlin College. Hailing from India and Nepal, where problems with education have crippled the success of each country, the three wanted to see if digital content (freely available in the U.S.) could make a difference in a low-income classroom. Bringing experience in working with under-resourced schools and communities in South Asia, their passions aligned to design an innovative solution to effective ICT use in the classroom. To design and assemble a working prototype, they reached out to Thomas Kreek, a physics major with a passion for DIY projects. Henry Harboe, a fellow student entrepreneur with an eye for design, joined the team shortly afterwards.

Currently, as CEO for LumenEd, Prakash focuses on the business strategy, goals and partnerships. As Director of Business Development, Henry focuses on sales to U.S. schools and heads our marketing and branding efforts. Shiva manages our program in New Delhi with Teach for India fellows, and Thomas, our lead product engineer, is in charge of development. As Director of Business Outreach, Saksham is responsible for developing a communications strategy for media coverage. Together, they’re driven by a passion to make better learning accessible to everyone around the world. After spending countless hours taking this project off the ground over the last two years, they are personally and professionally committed to take LumenEd to the next level after graduation.

What is the main problem in education that you aim to solve.

The problem we are tackling is two-fold.

For much of the developing world, the biggest obstacle to success is poor education. India in particular has an especially big literacy problem. The teachers in Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) schools have limited access to outside educational resources due to either a lack of funding or insufficient infrastructure. We overcome both these barriers by providing a device – the Bright Orange Box – that works in any classroom, without a financial burden on the schools.

The other half of our problem is equally prevalent in developed countries as it is in the developing world. Students on both sides have a limited chance to interact with peers outside of their own classroom and culture. For K-12 students in the U.S., learning about other cultures is mostly limited to reading material online and in textbooks.Through our service, the Video Pen Pal Program, we facilitate a long-term line of communication between classrooms that has simply never been possible before. With the help of one affordable and convenient solution, classrooms can record and send videos about their stories, culture and history to any classroom, anywhere in the world.

Who are your main competitors? What sets you apart from them?

Our venture lies at the intersection of two existing markets: global learning and ICT solutions for low-income classrooms.

The biggest player in the global learning space is ePals. ePals provides project-focused collaboration between classrooms and primarily targets high-income, internet-enabled classrooms. The only solution that reaches low-income schools is PenPal Schools, a startup that uses a web platform to facilitate written exchanges between students. Firstly, our solution operates independently of existing infrastructure, including internet. We’re also the only solution that enables a video-based pen pal relationship between classrooms. Most importantly, by leveraging resources of US schools, we do all this without any financial burden on our low-income schools.

Regarding EdTech solutions in developing countries, initiatives like Educomp’s Smartclass, IBM’s Kidsmart Program and One Laptop Per Child have failed to make a significant impact on learning outcomes in developing countries. Their approach involves air-dropping technology into classrooms without an emphasis on student centric pedagogies.

These solutions rely on electricity and internet access, are prohibitively expensive, and completely alter lesson plans and the overall classroom environment. Our solution is a simple add-on, is drastically cheaper and requires no internet or electricity access. Moreover, it is focused on empowering teachers rather than replacing them, using simple videos to enhance rather than reinvent the learning experience. Finally, our business model leverage the interests of schools on both sides of the globe, and provide a desirable package that meets the both their needs and budgets. This provides a huge potential for scaling our business model through the global education market.

In which markets / regions are you active. What markets / regions are next.

We have currently partnered with Teach for India, an education NGO working with low-income classrooms across India, to bring our platform to 50 classrooms in New Delhi for the 2015-16 academic year. We’re working with progressive, independent schools in the U.S, as well as planning pilot programs with our Bright Orange Box with NGOs like Hope for Ghana and SEED Project in Ghana and Senegal.

Our growth strategy involves initially scaling our classrooms abroad through the Teach For All network, with extends to 35 countries and 11,000 schools. This will allow us to offer a diversified network of schools and add support for language programs. We also plan to scale to rural locations and government run schools. In the US, we plan to scale vertically to affordable private schools and public schools.

Who is your target audience.

We fulfill an international demand for global dialogue between classrooms that transcend geographic, socioeconomic and technological barriers. Initially, we are targeting 3rd-8th grade classrooms in the most progressive, independent schools in the US.
Abroad, we partner with NGOs serving under-resourced classrooms, starting with Teach For India in New Delhi. In the future, we will scale through NGO networks and reaching US public schools through more affordable offerings.

How do you engage with your target audience. How do you convert them into users of your product.

At this early stage, we are focused on direct sales to target schools. Six schools were part of our pilot in 2014 and we currently have ten schools and $30,000 in classroom subscriptions confirmed for the 2015-16 Program. As we expand our customer base, we plan to utilize key industry channels, including schools’ associations, conferences and partnerships with NGOs, including Teach For America.

What is your business model. How much does your product / service cost.

American schools pay an annual subscription fee for the Pen Pal program and device sponsorship. We charge $1,200 per classroom per year for the program and $800 per unit for the device. Initially, we are targeting upper elementary and middle school classrooms in top-tier private schools

If you raised funding, how much did you raise. Who are your investors. If not, are you planning to raise funding.

Our immediate plans for funding our development costs involve a Kickstarter that goes live on Friday, March 27 at 9 a.m. EST. We plan to raise $40,000 over the course of a month-long campaign to help us transition our hardware to an Android platform and build a leaner, more powerful Box.

This will be followed by a seed investment round in May.

What are the next steps in growing your startup.

Our growth strategy involves initially scaling our classrooms abroad through the Teach For All network, with extends to 35 countries and 11,000 schools. This will allow us to offer a diversified network of schools and add support for language programs. We also plan to scale to rural locations and government run schools. In the US, we plan to scale vertically to affordable private schools and public schools.

Our roadmap also envisions other applications and revenue streams. We are starting with a malaria prevention initiative with USAID in Ghana this year and will be expanding our reach to other education NGOs for direct sales of our product.

How can people get in touch with you.

Contact: Saksham Khosla
Co-Founder at LumenEd
M: 347.882.3468

Twitter: @lumened

Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She also writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at

  • Best idea for third world countries, I have to congratulate founders of this project…

    • Vicky Sagar

      please tell where i can purchase these product in india for rural childrens