Akowe, a Lagos-based startup, is using blockchain technology to address the challenge of issuing and verifying academic records in sub-Saharan Africa. The region faces difficulties in reissuing academic records, and universities are often protective of their certificates.
Founder Ayodeji Agboola recognized the need for a digital certificate verification system when he was training small business owners in 2018. The program had trained 30,000 individuals by 2019, and there was a need to prove completion of the course. Unable to find a simple tool, Agboola decided to build one himself.
Akowe’s platform allows organizations to upload certificate templates and a list of recipients’ names, creating digital copies of academic records for each individual. The blockchain technology plays a key role in storing the metadata, which includes the URL of the certificate’s hosting location, university names, student names, courses, grades, and graduating year. Recruiters or visa officers can then verify a person’s college certificate by checking the information on the blockchain.
The startup initially used Hyperledger, a permissioned blockchain, but is now experimenting with Amazon’s QLDB, a ledger database solution. QLDB allows for centrally managed records, giving them the security and tamper-proof nature needed for credential verification.
Akowe offers its platform to universities for free, taking a cut from the fees universities charge users. While it’s in the final stages of setting up pilots with two institutions, the biggest challenge lies in user acquisition. Public universities, which attract the majority of students, have a lot of bureaucracy that needs to be navigated.
Furthermore, Agboola has been cautious about mentioning blockchain in his business pitches due to the negative perception associated with cryptocurrency. However, when discussing safety, data security, and privacy, Akowe emphasizes the differences between their platform and crypto, leading to better conversations.
Akowe’s aim is to provide a utility that solves real-world problems and demonstrates the potential of blockchain technology in Africa. Despite the challenges, the startup is making progress in revolutionizing the way academic records are issued and verified in sub-Saharan Africa.