From left: Joel Nkounkou, CEO; Dylan Wheeler, CTO; and Nelson Thomas, CMO. Courtesy photo.
Textbooks are expensive and hard on natural resources, problems Joel Nkounkou aims to address with ecoText, a streaming platform that offers online textbooks. Founded in 2018, the firm also offers a virtual space where students can collaborate with each other and professors. As more colleges leaned into online learning during the pandemic, ecoText has found itself in demand.
“With COVID-19, when a lot of individuals are remote, if you take away that physical aspect of being in the classroom, you have to replace it with an engaging channel to have discussions and reinforce those learning topics,” says Nkounkou, the CEO. “We’re trying to create an ecosystem. We are a community-led library with collaboration that sees no boundaries.”
Nkounkou founded the company during his senior year at the University of NH with classmates Nelson Thomas, CMO, and Dylan Wheeler, CTO. Their office was initially located at the Entrepreneurship Center at the Paul College of Business and Economics, though they are now completely remote.
At the NH Tech Alliance’s Startup Showcase in December, ecoText took the top honor, winning a $200,000 investment from Millworks Fund II. Six startups vied for the prize.
Using ecoText, students can annotate their text and professors can respond to them and upload additional content.
ecoText’s seed library comprises more than 65,000 texts, most of which are “open educational resources,”—texts whose copyright dates have expired—making them freely accessible for classrooms.
When ecoText released its free beta version in 2019, it had 450 users. They were on track to hit 5,000 subscribers by the end of 2020. The team added features such as a citation manager, the ability to create notes and an improved search engine. The company is financially in the black with subscribers, who each pay $2.99 per month, at nine colleges in New England as well as Alabama, California, Florida and Georgia.
Nkounkou, Thomas and Wheeler have complete ownership of the company and funded its development through about $50,000 in prize money from business pitch competitions as well as investments from venture capitalists.
Nkounkou, Thomas, Wheeler and Evan Shaw, CPO, were invited to present at the Forbes 30 Under 30 event in Detroit.
Nkounkou says it was an opportunity to engage with startups across the country and build a network for potential investors.
ecoText has established partnerships with other companies to grow its digital library, including OpenStax. OpenStax creates textbooks for students, while the Digital Public Library of America makes historical archives available to the general public online. OpenStax’s audience of 4 million users provides ecoText significant potential to gain more subscribers in a short amount of time.
ecoText plans to expand by adding more recent, copyright-licensed texts through its Sapling Library subscription, going international and adding author annotations to improve understanding of the material.
Deryke Ramsey is a participant in the Young Reporters Project, a partnership between Business NH Magazine and the
University of NH Manchester.