Prajodh Rajan, co-founder and CEO of Lighthouse Learning group, did the unimaginable in 2021. Despite the ongoing Covid pandemic which is shutting down schools across India for nearly eighteen months, Rajan has opened a new school in Kharadi, a suburb of the western Indian city of Pune.
“Construction is almost complete on the five-acre lot. This is our fourth EuroSchool in Pune, ”said Rajan, during a Zoom interview with The Ken. While a few parents were invited on a physical tour of the school, the rest of Lighthouse Learning’s marketing was purely digital. Although this approach was a first in the company’s history, it clearly worked. At the beginning of July, 250 students had already registered for the virtual courses currently offered by the school. “We are preparing for when things finally open,” says Rajan hopefully.
The decision to go ahead is undoubtedly a bold one, given the current circumstances. However, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the relentless expansion was not, at least in part, forced on the business by the pandemic.
Lighthouse Learning, formerly known as EuroKids International Pvt Ltd., is a two-decade-old educational services company. During the 2000s, the group found success by franchising a preschool brand called Eurokids. Later the group added a K12 arm called EuroSchool.
Unlike most of the other private schools in India, which are mostly stand-alone or privately owned schools, Lighthouse was an anomaly. The chain was founded and run by professional executives, and instead of operating with family money or the whim of a single promoter, it invited private equity investments from the start. In 2017, EuroKids acquired the KKEL school network, which integrated the Kangaroo Kids and Billabong High brands.
In 2019, the group changed hands – global PE company KKR entered the Indian education market by taking a 90% stake in EuroKids for Rs 1,475 crore ($ 198 million). KKR’s investment brought further aggression to Lighthouse – the group made its first round of acquisitions in Nagpur in May 2021 by acquiring the Center Point school chain, which was part of a global deal with the chain of ‘Mother’s Pet Preschools. It also acquired Cambridge Public School, a stand-alone asset in Bangalore.
With KKR’s significant investment and seven brands in its fundraiser, Lighthouse should be poised to quickly acquire and consolidate the private school market in India. Except that he did not see the Covid coming. The pandemic has created headwinds for his preschool business. Lighthouse’s over 1,500 preschool franchises were suddenly ghost towns.
“We didn’t have a virtual alternative ready for a play school,” says Rajan, but says they were able to quickly switch to a virtual program called “HomeBuddy” for young children. Even now, while other industries – primary, middle and high school – have picked up to some extent, the preschool business has only recovered 40% from pre-pandemic levels, according to shared data. by Rajan.