Kivuto's coming out party

It’s a cutting-edge local tech company that has drawn comparisons with its much more famous e-commerce counterpart, Shopify, and even occupies the same downtown office its bigger, brasher cousin once called home.

So why hasn’t anybody heard of Kivuto?

“Up until recently, we didn’t really need to have a local Ottawa presence,” said Rick White, the firm’s vice-president and chief operating officer, during an interview at Kivuto’s new digs at 126 York St.

After 15 years in the capital, the company formerly known as e-academy has finally decided it’s ready for its closeup. Kivuto, whose turnkey platform delivers software, subscription cloud services and digital textbooks to businesses and educational institutions, introduced itself to the wider world in early December when it hosted EdTech, a two-day summit on the future of education technology.

“This conference is kind of the coming-out party for Kivuto,” said Mr. White, who began his career in high tech as an engineer at Mitel more than three decades ago.

Until recently, Kivuto focused on offering an easy-to-use system for colleges and universities to provide software such as Microsoft Office to students.   

A couple of years ago, it started branching out to other business sectors, and this fall, it began distributing e-textbooks to students at Algonquin College. Kivuto’s platform automatically recognizes what classes each student is taking and downloads all the necessary course material to users’ accounts at the click of a mouse.

“We think this is a wave that’s going to hit the Ontario colleges, so we’re kind of making our name known,” said Mr. White. “There’s not a lot of competition in the educational space for distributing software. We’re kind of the Goliaths in that space. This new space of actually distributing not just software but also textbooks is quite an interesting new wave.”

Glenn MacDougall, director of learning and teaching services at Algonquin, said Kivuto’s system saves on overhead and cuts expenses such as shipping costs.

But the main advantage is it ensures everyone has access to all necessary course materials – which is important because surveys show up to 30 per cent of students can’t afford all the books they need. Students now pay a fee for e-textbooks as part of their tuition, but it’s about half what they used to shell out at the campus store.

For some programs, that’s a savings of almost $500 per semester, Mr. MacDougall said.

“We’re taking a bit of a hit on the profit side of things, but … by providing all of our students with the resources, we’re going to see a huge impact on student success and retention,” he said. “If we can keep students in school, they do better and we do better in the long run.”

The school is also one of the 60,000 educational institutions around the world that uses Kivuto’s platform to deliver software to students.

“We’re customizing delivery to the individuals and I think that’s having a positive impact on the student experience,” Mr. MacDougall said.

Kivuto, which changed its name in 2012 in an effort to reflect its broader customer base, moved into Shopify’s former ByWard Market headquarters from its former home on Wellington Street in mid-November.

At 16,000 square feet, the new office is about the same size as the old headquarters. But Mr. White said the new space is much more efficient, with extra features including a 5,000-square-foot annex Kivuto will use to host public events such as EdTech. The company also freed up room to launch an incubator for firms specializing in education technology.

The incubator, which has space for about four startups and 13 people, last month welcomed its first tenant, electronic notebook maker Wipebook.

“We wanted to make sure that we could interact with the community, and part of the interaction … was to be able to interact with early-stage startup companies that had educational technology-based products,” Mr. White said. “If they want to get the message out into the educational community, we can help them.”

The new entrepreneurs will also bring fresh ideas to the workplace, he said.

“A lot of our staff have been with this company most of their careers and it gives them an opportunity to think outside the box,” he said. “We can mutually benefit. We can help them distribute their products into the education sector, and they can add value to our platform.”

Mr. White added he believes the education technology space, which drew nearly $750 million in venture capital financing in the United States alone last year, is on the cusp of explosive growth.

“This is really the Internet moment, I think, for education,” he said. “It’s exciting to be there.”


Founder and CEO: Ram Raju

Founded: 1997 in Halifax as PowerKnowledge

Moved to Ottawa: 1999, changed name 
to e-academy

Number of employees: 85

Organizations served: 
More than 60,000

Number of downloads 
per year on signature platform: More than 32 million

Languages spoken at headquarters: About 30