Authorâ€™s Blurb: I’ve gone to government school all my life, where my lunch options were never very attractive. Options were limited, not that cheap, and itâ€™s probably safe to say that healthiness was the last thing on the food operatorsâ€™ minds (cleanliness too, but I donâ€™t even want to think about that, blegh).
Gokula knew that when he gave money to his kids to spend at the school canteen, chances are that they couldâ€™ve been spending on chocolates, sugary drinks, or maybe not on food at all, and maybe not even in the school.
Thus, he wanted some level of visibility and control over what food his children were consuming at school, so he began a 4-month study on child nurturing, obesity, and wellness.
Throughout that period, he engaged parents, educators, schools, medical experts, and researchers.
At the end of the day, he realised the concerns around child nurturing were much bigger than he first thought.
â€œAsian parents today are so heavily focused on academic achievements, that in many ways they overlook development of other aspects of a child, such as financial literacy, wellness, and character development,â€� Gokula told Vulcan Post.
This was worrying to him, because he also learnt that food impacts school grades significantly (especially with maths).
Not to mention, Malaysia has the largest proportion of child obesity in the region too, with 1 in 4 being obese.
Wanting to do something about all this, Gokula came up with Vircle.
Giving Parents Peace Of Mind
Vircle is a cloud based SaaS solution that allows parents to provide digital allowances with a set of rules on how a child can spend.
These digital allowances can come in different forms, such as a simple cash allowance or letting children pick from an advanced selection of items from stores within the Vircle ecosystem.
Because children generally canâ€™t bring mobile phones to school, they can transact at school using a digital ID such as Vircle cards, wearables, and existing school cards at approved stores instead.
â€œWhen the child uses the spend approval, the payment is made automatically from the parentsâ€™ wallet directly to the merchant store, which could be the canteen, bookstore, or even an afterschool club,â€� Gokula said.
According to him, this concept is the first of its kind in the region.
â€œAs we were the first, we had to go through a rigorous and regulatory process with BNM through our electronic money licensing partner, Fasspay, which is an innovative fintech house.â€�
While they were solving the payment aspects, they also built a team of experts to guide them on nurturing.
Through this team, they then built a gamification engine which they intend to launch in phases with leading schools in Malaysia.
Altogether, theyâ€™ve invested about 7 digitsâ€™ worth of money into Vircleâ€™s development, certification and commercialisation, and the team is looking for investors to join their pre-seed rounds.
Eat Healthier, Score Better
On the food nutrition front, Vircle uses a food traffic lighting system to help parents identify the healthiness of different canteen options.
These serve as a guide for parents to select their childrenâ€™s food or monitor their childrenâ€™s selections.
â€œThe food traffic lighting system is based on an internationally recognised nutrition scoring methodology, adapted to local needs through our partnership with a local Malaysian university,â€� Gokula said.
This scoring system is also where gamification can come in, and he added, â€œConsider children competing to win rewards based on the proportion of good food they consume!â€�
Vircle sounds like an attractive enough solution for parents and children thus far, but whatâ€™s in it for the schools?
Well, there are no hardware or software licenses for schools to purchase and maintain.
â€œWe have a set of recommended low-cost merchant machines required to be used by school merchants, otherwise it is a simple low-cost entry,â€� Gokula shared.
Schools can also sign up to become Vircle partners for free, and both private and government schools are welcomed to be part of the ecosystem.
Adopting such a solution may make them more attractive prospects to the parents of future students, as they can be confident that the school has their children’s best interests in mind.
Similar to how e-wallets function, Vircle charges a merchant fee. For parents who use the advanced features in the app, theyâ€™re charged a minimal subscription fee per child.
Finding A Place For Themselves In The New Normal
â€œOur target for now are urban parents who are smartphone savvy and our school partners are leading schools in Malaysia with a vision thatâ€™s truly driven to help their students become the best they can in all aspects of life,â€� Gokula stated.
Their first schools were actually due to go live in the last week of March, but they had to postpone the date due to COVID-19.
Now theyâ€™ve finally launched and are working with 12 early adopter schools to go live as early as July/August 2020, with more reaching out to Vircle to plan their launch.
With the new norm, Gokula sees further opportunities for Vircle as he believes that many school canteens will disallow a la carte purchases.
Vircle is positioned to fill this space by allowing canteen operators to post their meal plans for pre-order on a weekly, monthly, or term basis, which parents can book through the app.
â€œHealthy meals are delivered by the canteen to the class in batches in child-safe packaging and student named labels,” Gokula added.
Everything theyâ€™ve done so far contributes to their big ambition of becoming the leading parental control payment and nurturing platform for children aged 5 to 18, with measurable impact across health, financial literacy and character development.
â€œWe have partners wanting us to extend Vircle into other Asian countries, but we need to get Malaysia right first before scaling out,â€� Gokula said.
â€œThis is an ambition worth getting out of bed for every morning!â€�
Bottom Line: I can see how private schools would be open to adapting such a solution, but I still struggle to believe that government schools could use Vircle as easily. Of course, it would be great if our canteen systems could be overhauled with greater emphasis on a childâ€™s wellbeing, particularly since we spend so much of our days in school with limited options for nutrition.
- You can read more about what we’ve written on fintech here.
Featured Image Credit: Vircle
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