The number of entrance exam to professional courses aspirants in India has grown exponentially. To come out on top, one needs to be more than a very hard worker, one needs the competitive advantage of being coached or taught by the best.
Here is where the basic problem lies. There is no way that the number of good teachers can increase on a scale proportional to the rate of increase in the number of students every year. There is also no way that these few teachers can cater to the overwhelming number of student aspirants all over the country.
That's the market Aurus Network is aiming to tap into when it set up in 2010.
"We pioneered the use of Internet-based live/recorded interactive HD classes which connects the best teachers with students across the country without requiring expensive hardware or dedicated networks," said Piyush Agarwal, CEO and founder of Aurus Network.
CourseHub, their flagship product, is a virtual classroom software that allows teachers to teach in their natural style without being bothered about technology. It has been designed specifically to deliver media-rich educational content.
The CourseHub Capture Appliance feature captures video and any other digital aids like presentations, interactive boards/panels etc. while the teacher delivers lecture in a regular classroom or a dedicated studio.
A good example of this can be seen here in the Automated Presenter tracking where the software in tangent with the camera keeps a track of the lecturer to deliver the live lecture feed which is then transmitted to their Internet-based video streaming servers, located in state-of-the-art secured data centers across the world, taking care of the storage aspect as well.
The live lecture is delivered to the groups of students in secondary classrooms on a projector or a LCD screen, or to individual students at work or at home. All that is required to view the live lecture is a regular Internet connection, with a minimum of 100 Kbps download speed and optionally a webcam and microphone to interact with the teacher.
To add to that CourseHub's content management server automatically archives the video making it available for viewing later on-demand, if allowed by the teacher. In addition, the teacher has access to sophisticated content management tools to organize videos, make them searchable, edit them, add interactive quizzes, apply access control etc.
Some of the key features of this product are:
Internet Bandwidth requirements: Unlike Web/video-conferencing tools, CourseHub delivers HD quality videos at ultra low bandwidths (100 Kbps), enabling educators to reach out to students from anywhere.
Style of Teaching: Typical Web conferencing tools require the teachers to modify their teaching styles, for e.g. to sit in front of a Web cam and use digital writing pads etc. which don't work for all teachers. CourseHub allows the teachers to teach their way, using chalk & talk, and make it interactive with the help of CourseHub Capture Appliance feature.
Human/Manual Intervention: Traditional solutions for video capture require a lot of human intervention. CourseHub automates the capture, mangement and delivery of learning content. Its Web-based lecture scheduler allows teachers to simply walk into the class at pre-defined time and start teaching, while taking care of switching on the camera, processing the videos and delivering them online. CourseHub's presenter tracking technology eliminates the need to have human camera operators in the classroom.
Infrastructure, Initial set-up and Maintenance: Traditional satellite-based solutions for delivering classes require deployment of massive hardware equipment and subsequently high amount of human labor for maintenance. All of these problems are solved by the fully automated system.
There are VSAT (satellite-based) and video-conferencing solutions being used currently for online education in India. According to Piyush, Aurus' unique selling point is that their solution is completely automated and software-based, it requires minimal hardware and the rates are affordable.
Their pricing model is pay-per-use basis, for example if a teacher delivers a session (live or recorded) from one location to say 4 other locations for 1 hour, the total usage billed by will be for 5 hours. The per hour price varies from 10 to 40 rupees, which is less than one U.S. dollar per hour and varies depending on the monthly usage volume of the particular client. They charge only the institute/teacher, in terms of number of hours consumed, and not the end-students. And as far as the storage is concerned up to 50 GB is free with each account. Additional storage can be purchased at nominal prices.
Unlike satellite-based solutions or common video conferencing options, customers are not tied to any specific Internet or hardware provider. Bandwidth can come from any ISP and the hardware required is available off the shelf. He also added that their solution is optimized to work well even at ultra-low Internet bandwidth which is typical in tier 2 or tier 3 cities. Primarily its target audience are test-preparation institutes, training institutes, corporates, Universities and schools.
You may think, there are multiple avenues such as Ustream, Google Hangouts by simply connecting your Web cam and streaming your lecture live. However the key difference lies in the quality of video captured and delivered by CourseHub, according to Piyush.
CourseHub claims to be able to deliver HD quality lecture videos at as low as 100 to 200 Kbps bandwidth. This is achieved with the help of their proprietary video compression techniques, which are especially designed for education/training videos.
There is nothing special about the camera, though he does recommend using a HD camera (Web cam or external handycam) for best results. Also, their capture and compression software can run on any PC and does not require any proprietary hardware/appliance.
So far they have focused mainly on the Indian market. Most of their customers are based out of India although he adds further that they've just begun expanding their marketing efforts to outside India (U.S., U.K., Australia etc). "We have had some positive responses and we are excited to explore the looming opportunities in these markets," Agarwal mentioned.
The company has been funded by Indian Angel Networks and has prominent investors like Sharad Sharma (executive council member at Nasscom, ex-CEO Yahoo India R&D) and Ajai Chowdhry (co-founder HCL Infosystems) amongst others on board.
With rising sectors adopting high-end technlogy, this startup aspires to grow further with this space being amongst the hottest ones in India. What in my opinion is key, for them is to focus on a value add and work closely with a lot of offline customers who haven't adopted even lesser aspects of technology let alone, something like video conferencing softwares and tools. The key lies in building the network from ground up and reaching out beyond just major cities, tier 2 and tier 3. That's where the real value add lies. What do you think?