Akowe, a Nairobi-based startup, aims to address the challenges of the broken certificate system in Africa using blockchain technology. The founder, Ayodeji Agboola, identified a demand for a digital certificate verification system in sub-Saharan Africa, as academic records are often difficult to reissue and universities are protective of them.
Akowe, a Nairobi-based startup, has developed a blockchain-based platform for issuing verifiable academic records to address the challenges of the broken certificate system in Africa. This platform aims to provide a secure and tamper-proof system for individuals to access their verified academic records.
Agboola observed that universities issue certificates only once, and if they are lost, they are usually unwilling to reissue them, opting instead for affidavits. This possessiveness by universities makes it challenging for individuals to obtain their verified academic records.
In 2020, Akowe developed a tool to verify completion certificates for a digital marketing training program in Nigeria. The success of this tool led to the creation of the current platform. Agboola emphasized that blockchain technology needs to be seen as a utility that solves real-world problems in Nigeria and Africa.
The storage aspect of Akowe’s platform is where blockchain plays a key role. Organizations upload their certificate templates and recipient lists, and the platform automatically generates digital copies of academic records for each individual. This metadata, including the hosting URL, university names, student names, courses, grades, and graduating year, is stored on the blockchain.
Akowe initially used Hyperledger, a permissioned blockchain, but is now exploring Amazon’s QLDB, a ledger database solution for centrally managed records. The immutable ledger provides the necessary security and tamper-proof nature required for verifying credentials.
Akowe currently operates as a one-man, bootstrapped shop, with assistance from contract developers. The platform is offered to universities for free, with Akowe earning a portion of the fees charged by universities to users. The startup is in the final stages of setting up pilots with two institutions and is in discussions with 15 others.
The main challenge for Akowe lies in user acquisition, particularly with public universities, which hold the majority of students. Agboola mentioned the need to navigate the red tape and negative perceptions surrounding blockchain technology due to its association with cryptocurrency. However, when framed in terms of safety, data security, and privacy, the conversation around Akowe’s platform becomes more favorable.