Even with Omicron, the teachers’ union leader isn’t calling for shutdowns.
One of the last times I wrote anything for Ars Technica, I excitedly detailed our new electrical engineering curriculum. We were starting a pilot in February and I promised to write a follow up at the end of the academic year, which was in July. To be honest, I was so exhausted by the semester that I simply could not bring myself to write about it over the summer holiday.
Now, as we exit the Christmas holiday, I finally feel able to paint a picture. It’s not all bright colors and beautiful landscapes, but the view looks promising.
For those of you who don’t remember the earlier piece, a summary: we switched from a traditional course-based curriculum to a project-based curriculum, where the students had to choose how to show that they could use their electrical engineering knowledge. The philosophy is that being able to apply knowledge and skills in the right context is a good signal that someone understands what they’ve learned. That means we have to set the right context and provide the students the opportunity to acquire the right knowledge and skills.
Everyone should have that privilege.
The Supreme Court is about to consider that question.
Understanding diversity in the suburbs is key to winning elections.
Fights over how we tell our national story go back more than a century — and have a great deal to teach us about our current divisions.
Readers argue against the full decriminalization of sex work. Also: Joe Manchin and Greta Thunberg; a parole in the Brink’s case; the value of college.
An attack in a school bathroom had nothing to do with trans issues.
Malka Leifer, who was extradited from Israel after a long battle, pleaded not guilty to 70 counts.
It’s a proxy for a larger debate about the meaning of academic freedom and the priorities of higher education.
Taha Ahmed and Rooshan Aziz left their jobs in strategy consulting and investment banking in London earlier this year in order to found a mobile-only education platform startup, Maqsad, in Pakistan, with a goal “to make education more accessible to 100 million Pakistani students.”
Having grown up in Karachi, childhood friends Ahmed and Aziz are aware of the challenges about the Pakistani education system, which is notably worse for those not living in large urban areas (the nation’s student-teacher ratio is 44:1). Pakistani children are less likely to go to school for each kilometer of distance between school and their home — with girls being four times affected, Maqsad co-founder Aziz said.
Maqsad announced today its $2.1 million pre-seed round to enhance its content platform growth and invest in R&D.
The pre-seed round, which was completed in just three weeks via virtual meetings, was led by Indus Valley Capital, with participation from Alter Global, Fatima Gobi Ventures and several angel investors from Pakistan, the Middle East and Europe.
Maqsad will use the proceeds for developing in-house content, such as production studio, academics and animators, as well as bolstering R&D and engineering, Aziz told TechCrunch. The company will focus on the K-12 education in Pakistan, including 11th and 12th grade math, with plans to expand into other STEM subjects for the next one-two years, Aziz said.
Maqsad’s platform, which provides a one-stop shop for after-school academic content in a mix of English and Urdu, will be supplemented by quizzes and other gamified features that will come together to offer a personalized education to individuals. Its platform features include adaptive testing that alter a question’s level of difficulty depending on users’ responses, Aziz explained.
The word “maqsad” means purpose in Urdu.
“We believe everyone has a purpose. Maqsad’s mission is to enable Pakistani students to realize this purpose; whether you are a student from an urban centre, such as Lahore, or from a remote village in Sindh: Maqsad believes in equal opportunity for all,” Aziz said.
“We are building a mobile-first platform, given that 95% of broadband users in Pakistan are via mobile. Most other platforms are not mobile optimized,” Aziz added.
“It’s about more than just getting students to pass their exams. We want to start a revolution in the way Pakistani students learn, moving beyond rote memorization to a place of real comprehension,” said co-founder Taha Ahmed, who was a former strategy consultant at LEK.
The company ran small pilots in April and May and started full-scale operations on 26 July, Aziz said, adding that Maqsad will launch its mobile app, currently under development, in the coming months in Q4 2021 and has a waitlist for early access.
“Struggles of students during the early days of the pandemic motivated us to run a pilot. With promising initial traction and user feedback, the size of the opportunity to digitize the education sector became very clear,” Aziz said.
The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the education industry, heating up the global edtech startups that made online education more accessible for a wider population, for example in countries like India and Indonesia, Aziz mentioned.
The education market size in Pakistan is estimated at $12 billion and is projected to increase to $30 billion by 2030, according to Aziz.
It plans to build the company as a hybrid center offering online and offline courses like Byju’s and Aakash, and expand classes for adults such as MasterClass, the U.S.-based online classes for adults, as its long-term plans, Aziz said.
“Maqsad founders’ deep understanding of the problem, unique approach to solving it and passion for impact persuaded us quickly,” the founder and managing partner of Indus Valley Capital, Aatif Awan, said.
“Pakistan’s edtech opportunity is one of the largest in the world and we are excited to back Maqsad in delivering tech-powered education that levels access, quality and across Pakistan’s youth and creates lasting social change,” Ali Mukhtar, general partner of Fatima Gobi Ventures said.
It’s a story common to all sectors today: investors only want to see ‘uppy-righty’ charts in a pitch. However, edtech growth in the past 18 months has ramped up to such an extent that companies need to be presenting 3x+ growth in annual recurring revenue to even get noticed by their favored funds.
Some companies are able to blast this out of the park — like GoStudent, Ornikar and YouSchool — but others, arguably less suited to the conditions presented by the pandemic, have found it more difficult to present this kind of growth.
One of the most common themes Brighteye sees in young companies is an emphasis on international expansion for growth. To get some additional insight into this trend, we surveyed edtech firms on their expansion plans, priorities and pitfalls. We received 57 responses and supplemented it with interviews of leading companies and investors. Europe is home 49 of the surveyed companies, six are based in the U.S., and three in Asia.
Going international later in the journey or when more funding is available, possibly due to a VC round, seems to make facets of expansion more feasible. Higher budgets also enable entry to several markets nearly simultaneously.
The survey revealed a roughly even split of target customers across companies, institutions and consumers, as well as a good spread of home markets. The largest contingents were from the U.K. and France, with 13 and nine respondents respectively, followed by the U.S. with seven, Norway with five, and Spain, Finland, and Switzerland with four each. About 40% of these firms were yet to foray beyond their home country and the rest had gone international.
International expansion is an interesting and nuanced part of the growth path of an edtech firm. Unlike their neighbors in fintech, it’s assumed that edtech companies need to expand to a number of big markets in order to reach a scale that makes them attractive to VCs. This is less true than it was in early 2020, as digital education and work is now so commonplace that it’s possible to build a billion-dollar edtech in a single, larger European market.
But naturally, nearly every ambitious edtech founder realizes they need to expand overseas to grow at a pace that is attractive to investors. They have good reason to believe that, too: The complexities of selling to schools and universities, for example, are widely documented, so it might seem logical to take your chances and build market share internationally. It follows that some view expansion as a way of diversifying risk — e.g. we are growing nicely in market X, but what if the opportunity in Y is larger and our business begins to decline for some reason in market X?
International expansion sounds good, but what does it mean? We asked a number of organizations this question as part of the survey analysis. The responses were quite broad, and their breadth to an extent reflected their target customer groups and how those customers are reached. If the product is web-based and accessible anywhere, then it’s relatively easy for a company with a good product to reach customers in a large number of markets (50+). The firm can then build teams and wider infrastructure around that traction.
Byju’s said on Thursday it has acquired California-headquartered Tynker, a leading coding platform for K-12 students, the latest in a series of major purchases as the Indian edtech giant attempts to aggressively expand to international markets.
The companies didn’t disclose the terms of the deal, but a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that the Indian firm is spending about $200 million on the acquisition.
Tynker operates an eponymous coding platform. It has established itself as a leader in the space, having amassed over 60 million kids on its platform, Tynker founders told TechCrunch in an interview.
The eight-year-old startup, which gamifies the learning experience to make it more exciting for kids to participate, also maintains partnerships — and has presence in — over 100,000 schools across 150 nations, said Srinivas Mandyam.
Mandyam, as well as Tynker’s other co-founders — Krishna Vedati and Kelvin Chong — will continue with the firm after the acquisition, they said. Vedati said in an interview that the startups began exploring ways to collaborate earlier this year.
Byju Raveendran, founder and chief executive of Byju’s, told TechCrunch in an interview that Tynker’s asynchronous offering fits perfectly in Byju’s current portfolio. India’s most valuable startup acquired WhiteHat Jr, a coding platform that offers synchronous classes, last year in a $300 million deal. “Tynker’s offering is complimentary to WhiteHat Jr’s,” he said.
Tynker is the latest firm to be acquired by Byju’s, which has amassed over 100 million registered users — about 6.5 million of whom are paid customers — across the globe. The Bangalore-headquartered startup has this year along acquired Scholr, Aakash Institute, Hashlearn, Epic, and Great Learning for over $2 billion in cash and equity deals. Just last week it revealed that it had also purchased Times Internet-backed Gradeup for an undisclosed amount.
Raveendran said that Byju’s is continuing to explore more merger and acquisition opportunities. These acquisitions are helping Byju’s aggressively broaden its offerings and tap international markets in more meaningful ways, he said.
On the other side of the business, the Indian edtech giant is also beginning to explore an initial public offering. The startup has began conversations with bankers, some of whom have given the firm a proposed valuation of up to $50 billion, TechCrunch reported first last month.
Raveendran confirmed that “IPO is on the cards,” but said it’s too early to comment on a precise timeline.
This is a developing story. More to follow…
CoderSchool, a Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam-based online coding school startup, announced today $2.6 million in pre-Series A funding to scale up its online coding school platform.
This round was led by Monk’s Hill Ventures, with participation from returning seed investors Iterative, XA Network and iSeed Ventures. CoderSchool raised a seed round led by TRIVE Ventures in 2018.
CoderSchool will use the funding to accelerate its online teaching platform growth and technology infrastructure expansion for the company’s technical education programs that guarantee employment upon graduation.
The company, founded in 2015 by Charles Lee and Harley Trung, who previously worked as software engineers, pivoted from offline to online in early 2020 to bring high-quality technical training to everyone, everywhere. After switching to a fully online learning program, the company recorded 100% quarter-over-quarter (QoQ) growth in fully online enrollment, it said in a statement.
“Coding is the future. At CoderSchool, we believe everyone in Southeast Asia deserves a chance to be part of that future,” the company co-founder and CEO Lee said.
In Vietnam, the demand for IT talent is dramatically increasing by 47% a year, while supply is only increasing by 8% year-on-year.
“The need for strong engineers and developers in Southeast Asia has never been as pertinent as it is today with the growth of tech companies and digital businesses,” said Michele Daoud, partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures. “We have been impressed by the team’s focus on setting the standard for coding education in the region. We are excited to partner with CoderSchool to provide both opportunity and access to the millions of aspiring students in Vietnam.”
Given the strong engineer demand in Vietnam, the domestic market size is estimated between $100 million – $200 million, and still increasing every year, according to Lee. CoderSchool has been focusing on Vietnam for the last six years, but plans to enter the global market following the next round, Lee said, without providing exact timetable.
CoderSchool, which offers full-stack web development, machine learning and data sciences courses at a lower cost, has trained more than 2,000 alumni up to date, and recorded over 80% job placement rate for full-time graduates, getting jobs at companies such as BOSCHE, Microsoft, Lazada, Shopee, FE Credit, FPT Software, Sendo, Tiki and Momo.
CorderSchool’s online program enables students to interact with instructors and classmates before, during and after scheduled class sessions with its human-driven learning strategy. CoderSchool currently has 15 instructional staff, and plans to hire 35 additional instructors by Q4 2022.
CoderSchool’s data analytics has improved individual student performance while also allowing CoderSchool to increase its classroom size at scale, reaching a peak of 107 enrollments in a data science class.
Reach Capital, a San Francisco-based venture firm co-founded by Jennifer Carolan and Shauntel Garvey, focused exclusively on edtech for years before the sector ballooned with unicorns. The rare, female-led partnership closed its third fund in February, a $165 million vehicle and its largest to date. That said, returns from its previous funds show that the early bet on a now-revitalized sector is paying off.
Reach Capital’s second fund, an $82 million vehicle closed in 2017, posted a net internal return rate of 72.1% as of Q2 2021, according to data intended for LPs and obtained by TechCrunch. The fund, which put investments into Paper, Winnie and now-unicorns Handshake and Outschool, ranks multiple percentage points above the top quartile of funds of that vintage. According to Cambridge Associates data, the top quartile of funds of that vintage had a net IRR of 47.64% the same quarter.
By comparison, Reach Capital’s first fund was multiple percentage points below the top quartile of fund performers of its vintage year, 2015.
It’s worth noting that Reach Capital’s returns for its second fund are mostly paper gains, meaning that the net IRR is based on an uptick in valuations. Given the fact that the firm is heavily concentrated in follow-on rounds, the IRR is thus a snapshot of a single moment of its performance in time. Reach recently had its first cash exit, seeing portfolio company Ellevation merge with Curriculum Associates, but that is not represented in the data.
A number of blooming startups may explain what’s driving the improved performance between Reach I and Reach II. Per an impact report, Reach II invested $32 million into 14 core investments, including Newsela, Handshake and Outschool, all companies that have now gone to pass the billion-dollar valuation mark, making them unicorns. It also put money into Paper, which recently landed a nine-figure round led by IVP. By getting into those companies early, and then watching them get marked up as edtech booms as a category, Reach’s positions get validated.
The diversity of Reach II’s portfolio beats industry averages, but the founders are still concentrated as white and male. About 74% of investments are founded by men, while 26% are founded by women, the report states. About 62% of founders identify as white, 20% identify as Asian, 14% identify as LatinX and 4% identify as Middle Eastern. There are no Black founders in Reach Capital II’s portfolio.
Reach’s impressive returns come at a time when venture more broadly is booming. A number of investors and founders spoke on background to offer context about whether the returns are impressive for a seed-stage fund of that vintage. One investment strategist said that, while it’s not unheard of in this environment, the return percentage is “crazy good.”
“Easily upper quartile and probably upper decile,” they said. “Unless we are talking crypto, in which case it’s pretty ordinary.” A separate seed-stage investor pointed to Fred Wilson’s recent blogpost “Cash on Cash vs IRR,” alluding to the idea that holding periods can skew fund performance data.
Still, Reach’s returns offer an impressive window into how one of the most diverse partnerships in venture capital is performing within one of the most revitalized sectors in startupland. The momentum isn’t going unnoticed. Filings show that Reach is raising money for a $50 million opportunity fund. The company has been on a hiring spree as of late, too, bringing on Jomayra Herrera from Cowboy Ventures as a partner and Tony Wan from EdSurge as head of investor content.
The closure is spawning a backlash in a country where many people do not have access to a computer or the internet at home. Most schools in the United States and Britain have resumed in-person instruction.
China’s first data privacy laws go into effect on November 1, 2021. Will your company be in compliance?
Modeled after the EU’s GDPR, the new regulations “[introduce] perhaps the most stringent set of requirements and protections for data privacy in the world,” writes Scott W. Pink, special counsel in O’Melveny’s Data Security & Privacy practice.
In a comprehensive overview, he explains its key requirements and compliance steps for U.S.-based firms that service Chinese consumers.
“American firms doing business in China or with companies inside China will need to immediately start assessing how this new law will impact their activities,” he advises.
Now that the world has embraced remote work, are visas as critical for startup founders who want to succeed in the United States?
On Tuesday, September 14, at 2 p.m PT/5 p.m. ET, Managing Editor Danny Crichton and immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn will discuss the matter on Twitter Spaces.
— TechCrunch (@TechCrunch) September 10, 2021
They’ll take questions from the audience, so mark your calendar and follow @techcrunch on Twitter to get a reminder before the chat.
Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch; I hope you have a great weekend.
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
Fintech is transforming the world’s oldest asset class: Farmland
Whether or not he actually said it, “buy land, they ain’t making any more of it,” is one of Mark Twain’s best quotes on capitalism.
Past recessions and the ongoing pandemic have created real uncertainty about the future of commercial and residential real estate, but farmland is “historically stable,” says Artem Milinchuk, founder and CEO of FarmTogether.
Anatomy of a SPAC: Inside Better.com’s ambitious plans
Online mortgage company Better.com isn’t waiting to complete its SPAC merger before making big moves: Ryan Lawler reported that it purchased Property Partners, a U.K.-based startup that offers fractional property ownership.
It’s the second company Better bought in recent months: In July, it snapped up digital mortgage brokerage Trussle.
“We aren’t so easily categorized,” said Better CEO Vishal Garg, who told Ryan that the company plans to soon expand into traditional financial services like auto loans and insurance.
Said CFO Kevin Ryan, “a lot of people have their niches in the way they’re attacking this, but we feel like we’re on a path to being full stack where everything’s embedded in the same flow.”
5 factors that can make or break a startup’s growth journey
If you don’t have a good story to share, it doesn’t matter how big your marketing budget is.
“Paid marketing can be a useful tool in your toolkit to accelerate an already humming flywheel. Just don’t let it be the only one,” suggests Brian Rothenberg, a two-time founder who’s now a partner at Defy.
Drawing from his time as VP of growth for Eventbrite, he shares five critical factors for kick-starting, maintaining and measuring growth over the long term.
Debt versus equity: When do non-traditional funding strategies make sense?
Many potential founders are well-versed in startup economics — and many are completely green.
When it comes to raising funds, understanding the relative benefits (and limitations) of debt and equity financing is required knowledge, however.
Founders who are less willing to dilute their control may be willing to use debt financing to fund their capital expenditures, “but it doesn’t make sense for everyone,” says six-time entrepreneur David Friend.
Investors are doubling down on Southeast Asia’s digital economy
Last year, startups based in Southeast Asia raised more than $8.2 billion, a 4x increase from 2015.
In the first half of 2021, regional M&A has increased 83% to a record $124.8 billion.
It’s not just venture capitalists and Big Tech who are beefing up their presence in the region.
“Over 229 family offices have been registered in Singapore since 2020, with total assets under management of an estimated $20 billion,” writes Amit Anand, a founding partner of Jungle Ventures.
Edtech leans into the creator economy with cohort-based classes
Natasha Mascarenhas examined the parallels between edtech and the creator economy, both of which boomed amid the pandemic — and blurred amid the rise of cohort-based classes.
“Edtech and the creator economy certainly differ in the problems they try to solve: Finding a VR solution to make online STEM classes more realistic is a different nut to crack than streamlining all of a creator’s different monetization strategies into one platform. Still, the two sectors have found common ground in the past year.”
Meet retail’s new sustainability strategy: Personalization
Were the shoes, jacket and makeup that looked so good on Instagram (and in your shopping cart) disappointing when you put them on for the first time?
Due to buyer’s remorse, it’s not uncommon for apparel or beauty products to languish in the back of a drawer or end up as gifts, but there are also serious consequences.
“The beauty industry produces over 120 billion units of packaging every year, little of which is recycled. Globally, an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste ends up in landfills,” Sindhya Valloppillil, founder and CEO of Skin Dossier, notes in a guest column.
The answer to bringing sustainability to the industry, she says, is using tech to personalize the retail experience:
- AR virtual try-on with shade matching
- Advanced virtual fitting rooms with VR/AR for fashion
- Smart packaging with IoT and distributed ledger technology
Plentywaka founder Onyeka Akumah on African startups and global expansion
Twenty million people live in Lagos, Nigeria, and each day, 14 million of them use the city’s transit system.
Travelers rely on overcrowded public buses that navigate congested routes: What should be a 30-minute trip is often a three-hour journey, but Treepz CEO and co-founder Onyeka Akumah “has big plans to ameliorate the public transport infrastructure in Africa and beyond,” writes Rebecca Bellan.
“We wanted to give people a better way to commute with predictability, where they can know when the bus will get here, the certainty that they will have a seat in a vehicle, that it’s a decent vehicle and a safe one where you can bring your laptop,” said Akumah.
“Those are the things we said we wanted to change.”
Dear Sophie: When can I apply for my US work permit?
My husband just accepted a job in Silicon Valley. His new employer will be sponsoring him for an E-3 visa.
I would like to continue working after we move to the United States. I understand I can get a work permit with the E-3 visa for spouses.
How soon can I apply for my U.S. work permit?
— Adaptive Aussie
Quizlet, a flashcard tool turned artificial intelligence-powered tutoring platform, is planning an initial public offering nearly a year after it was valued at $1 billion. According to people familiar with the matter, Quizlet is considerably far along in the process to go public. A recent job filing shows that it is hiring for senior roles to “help build the financial systems and processes as we move towards an IPO.”
In an email to TechCrunch, the San Francisco-based edtech startup declined to comment. Quizlet hasn’t said much about its revenue specifics or if it’s profitable. Last year, the still-private startup claimed it was growing revenue 100% annually. On its website, Quizlet says that it has 60 million monthly learners, up 10 million learners compared to its 2018 totals.
Quizlet has built a large-scale business around simple to share and simple to use products. Its free flashcard maker helps students spin up study guides on topics to prepare for exams. Those insights fuel Quizlet Plus, the startup’s subscription product that charges $47.88 a year for access to more features, including tutoring services.
Quizlet’s tutoring arm, also known as Quizlet Learn, is the company’s most popular offering, per CEO Matthew Glotzbach. As a student goes through the system, Quizlet Learn consistently assesses students to see where they are making mistakes — and where they are making progress.
“It obviously doesn’t yet replace and can’t come anywhere close to replacing a human, but it can provide that guidance and point you in the right direction and help you spend your time in the right places,” he said. “Just even helping you set goals is such a critical step in learning.”
Most recently, Quizlet announced the launch of explanations, a feature that offers a step-by-step solution guide for problem sets from popular textbooks. The feature is “written and verified by experts” and is aimed to help “students better understand the reasoning and thought process behind study questions so they can practice and apply their learnings on their own,” it said in a statement. It also reclaimed the Q from its less fortunate predecessor, amid an entire rebrand.
Quizlet’s quiet march toward the public markets has been slow yet steady. The startup was founded in 2005 by a 15-year-old, Andrew Sutherland. It was fully bootstrapped until 2015. Glotzbach, who was previously an executive at YouTube, then joined in 2016. The startup still doesn’t appear to have a CFO, which is rare for companies that are going public.
Quizlet has raised a majority of its $62 million in venture capital under Glotzbach. Now, investors in the company include General Atlantic, Owl Ventures, Union Square Ventures, Costanoa Ventures and Altos Ventures.
Quizlet’s pursuit of the public markets comes as other edtech companies are proving the market’s reception to the sector. Duolingo, for example, is another consumer-focused education company, albeit one that focuses on one vertical versus Quizlet’s choice to stay broad. Duolingo went public in July, and is currently trading above its open price at $169.75 per share.
Six experts on the consequences of missed learning — and what it means for this year.
Microsoft said in January this year that Teams, its online collaboration platform, was being used by over 100 million students — boosted in no small part by the Covid-19 pandemic and many schools going partly or fully remote. Now, it’s made another acquisition to continue expanding its position in the education market.
The company has acquired TakeLessons, a platform for students to connect with individual tutors in areas like music lessons, language learning, academic subjects and professional training or hobbies, and for tutors to book and organize the lessons they give, both online and in person.
Terms of the deal have not been disclosed but we are trying to find out. San Diego-based TakeLessons had raised at least $20 million from a range of VCs and individuals that included LightBank, Uncork Capital, Crosslink Capital and others. TakeLessons posted a short note in the form of a Q&A confirming the deal on its site. The note said that it will continue operating business as usual for the time being, with the intention of taking its platform to a wider global audience.
It’s not clear how many active students and tutors TakeLessons had on its platform at the time of acquisition, but for some context, another big player in the area of online one-to-one tutoring, GoStudent out of Europe, raised $244 million in funding earlier this year that valued it at $1.7 billion. Others in online tutoring like Brainly are also seeing valuations in the hundreds of millions.
Given the relatively modest amount raised by TakeLessons, it’s likely this was a much lower valuation. Yet the acquisition is still one that gives Microsoft the infrastructure and beginnings of setting up a much more aggressive play in mass-market online education, potentially to go head-to-head with these and other big platforms.
TakeLessons today offers instruction in a wide variety of areas, including music lessons (which was where it had gotten its start) through to languages, academic subjects and test prep, computer skills, crafts and more. It has been around since 2006 and got its start first as a platform for people to connect with tutors local to them for in-person lessons, before progressing into online lessons to complement that business.
The pandemic has precipitated a shift to a much bigger wave of the latter, with online tutoring apparently the majority of what is offered on TakeLessons platform today. These lessons continue to be offered on a one-on-one basis, but additionally students can take part in group lessons online via the startup’s Live platform.
The shift to online education that we’ve seen take hold around the world is likely why Microsoft sees a big opportunity here.
On the heels of many schools around the world scrambling for better online learning platforms to manage remote learning during lockdowns and quarantines, educators, families and students have been using (and paying for) a variety of different tools. Within that, Microsoft has been pushing hard to make Teams a leader in that area.
That was built on years of traction already in the market (and a number of other investments and acquisitions that Microsoft has made over the years).
But it also comes amid a new insurgence of competition arising from the current state of affairs. That includes adoption of Google Classroom, as well as a wide variety of more targeted point solutions for specific purposes like video lessons (Zoom figures big here); apps for lesson planning and homework planning; online on-demand tutorials in specific areas like math or languages or science to bolster in-class learning experiences; and more.
The Microsoft way is to bring as many features into a platform as possible to make it more sticky and less likely that users will turn to other apps, providing more value for money around the Microsoft offer. In other words, I’d expect to see Microsoft do more deals and launch more features to cover all of the services that it doesn’t already provide through its educational tools.
(Case in point: my children’s school uses Teams for online lessons, in part because it already uses Outlook for its email system. Now, the school has announced that it will no longer be using a different third-party app for homework planning; instead, teachers will be assigning homework and managing it via Teams. For a cash-strapped state school like ours, it makes sense that it would opt out of paying for two apps when it can get the same features in just one of them. The kids are not happy about this! This is what Microsoft leverages with its platform play.)
NextLessons is somewhat adjacent to that school-focused education strategy. Yes, there will be a big audience of students and their families who might represent a good cross-selling opportunity for tutoring, but NextLessons represents also a more mass-market offering, open to anyone who might want to learn something, not just those already using Microsoft Education products.
So the interest here is likely not just students who want to supplement their online learning — there is a big audience for online tutoring — but any lifelong learner, as well as the many consumers or professionals out there who have gotten interested in learning something new, especially in the last 1.5 years of spending more time alone and/or at home.
And with that, there are other potential opportunities for NextLessons in the Microsoft universe.
Just yesterday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Ryan Roslansky, the CEO of Microsoft-owned LinkedIn, held an online presentation about what work will look like in the future. Education — specifically professional development — figured strongly in that discussion, with the conversation coinciding with LinkedIn launching a new Learning Hub.
LinkedIn has not only been working for years on building out its education business, but it has also long been looking for a more sticky inroad into doing more with video on its platform.
Something like NextLessons could, interestingly, kill those two birds with one stone. While LinkedIn’s education content up to now has not been something specifically tied to “live” online lessons, you could imagine a bridge between Microsoft’s latest acquisition and what LinkedIn might consider next, too.
As Amazon struggles to staff its warehouses, it’s joining other large employers by offering to pay for college tuition in an attempt to attract and retain hourly employees.
The e-commerce giant announced Thursday that it would be broadening its education benefits by offering more than 750,000 employees the opportunity to attend college or finish high school for free. Employees only have to work at the company for 90 days to be eligible, and if they leave, they do not have to reimburse Amazon for any tuition or fees paid during their time with the company.
Notably, it’s not a reimbursement program—Amazon is paying tuition and fees up front so employees don’t have to dip into savings to enroll. The company expects to roll out the new benefits in January. In addition to bachelor’s and associate’s degrees and GEDs, the program will cover English as a second language certifications. Amazon also announced skill training and apprenticeship programs for entry-level employees working in AWS and other IT positions.
The wider world of employment has seen a huge shift in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Looking for a job, finding someone to fill a role, or simply developing professionally are just not the same as they used to be for many of us. So it’s no surprise to see companies that have built business models catering to these areas changing, too: today, LinkedIn, Microsoft’s social networking platform for the working world, announced a wave of news aimed at moving ahead with the times.
It’s launching a new Learning Hub aimed at organizations to provide professional development and other training to employees. And it’s making 40 courses free of charge to LinkedIn members specifically to address some of the changes afoot, such as how to adapt to hybrid working, how to be a better manager in the new normal, and how to return to the office, and run facilities when they are spread beyond a building to also include people’s private homes. Lastly, it’s also starting to tweak details that people can use to list and search for job openings to account for these kinds of working conditions, and more.
The Learning Hub was first previewed back in April of this year and has been running in a limited beta. Today, as part of a bigger event hosted by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky where they are discussing new trends in the world of work, the Hub is being rolled out more widely.
For some context, LinkedIn has been long on education for years, with acquisitions like the remote learning platform Lynda back in 2015 bolstering its own education strategy and position as a go-to platform for professional development; partnerships to bring in significant amounts of third-party content (for example, when it added some 13,000 courses via third parties in 2018); and efforts to tie together the concept of skills development with professional profiles, running research and building interactive tools for its users.
The free courses that are being launched today (and will remain free until October 9) are a timely set of videos to help companies as some of them start to make (or think about) the transitions from remote to in-office environments, but the bigger product launch, The Learning Hub, is not exactly an altruistic endeavor in that longer journey. It is being sold as a premium service for businesses — existing LinkedIn Learning Pro users will be able to use it for free until July 2022, potentially longer, it said. In addition to being a salient business, it is also connected to the company’s bigger efforts to bring in more businesses-focused services, and more engagement from HR departments, to bolster one of its other main revenue drivers, recruitment.
As a learning experience platform (often described as LXPs), LinkedIn’s relaunch of its own learning hub will bring it into closer competition with the likes of 360Learning, Coursera for Business, Workday, Cornerstone, and the many other platforms used by organizations to manage their own in-house and third-party professional training content. In addition to this, LinkedIn says it will be using its own data on employment trends, plus AI, to personalize content for organizations and users. The fact, however, that it’s also a platform whee those HR teams can also list jobs and source candidates makes it a significantly stickier experience, and one that might feel more cohesive at a time when so much else might be more fragmented.
The new fields that LinkedIn is bringing into its recruitment service are also notable in that regard. It will now let recruiters indicate whether a job is remote, hybrid or onsite; and soon those looking for jobs will also be able to indicate which of these it’s looking for in a new role. Companies will also be able to start indicating more details on their own company status as it relates to things like vaccination requirements, and to let the world (employees, partners, customers, interested others) know whether your physical offices are open for business or not.
These new fields may sound a little trivial, or at least very specifically related to concerns and circumstances that we live with today, but I think they are more notable than this. They speak to what LinkedIn sees (and what many of us feel) are strong priorities in how we view jobs today. That opens the door to how and if LinkedIn might consider other kinds of details in company and personal profiles, as well as details that could be used in recruitment. This is something the company has also been working on for a little while already: in June it started to give users the option of adding pronouns to their profiles. All of this is pretty important, considering that there are a lot of smaller companies and calls for someone to knock LinkedIn off its pedestal. As LinkedIn dabbles with new formats and sunsets others, it’s all signals that it’s attempting to be more adaptable to counteract that.
DotCom Therapy, a pediatric teletherapy company, just closed a $13 million series A round. It’s far from the only teletherapy company looking to capitalize on a boom in venture capital investment in mental health startups, but it’s operating in a hyper-specific sphere: therapy for kids.
DotCom Therapy was originally co-founded in 2015 by Rachel Mack Robinson, who, at the time, was a practicing pediatric therapist at a neurology clinic in Missouri, and Emily Purdom, also a speech language pathologist. Purdom is no longer involved with the company.
The pair noticed a pattern that still holds true in 2021: about one in five children in the US experience a mental disorder (like ADHD, or anxiety or depression for example), but just 20 percent receive treatment from a mental healthcare provider, per the CDC.
DotCom Therapy’s bet is that teletherapy can close that gap.
In the company’s infancy, Robinson called school districts across the country asking to pilot a teletherapy program. Her first greenlight was a district in rural Alaska, where Robinson delivered a combination of in-person and teletherapy.
Today, the company provides fully online speech, occupation and behavioral therapy and has still focused on partnering with schools and other youth programs, like Little League (the company provided mental health services for the Little League World Series Tournaments). DotCom Therapy has partnered with over 400 schools (in over 100 districts) in 38 states, so far.
With this most recent round of funding, the company plans to expand operations beyond school districts, and scale up their service to reach kids both in and out of school. The program for families specifically is called Zesh, an online therapy platform that matches kids with therapists, schedules visits and hosts video calls.
“Our main customer base was K-12 school districts. We have the core of our business rocking and rolling with our education market,” says Robinson. “But we know that we are wanting to expand our footprint, enter into health systems and also offer services for private patients through working different health plans,” she says.
This Series A was led by New Capital Partners – a firm with a history of success in the telemedicine space. New Capital Partners were early investors in Teladoc, a virtual healthcare company founded in 2002. Teladoc went public in 2015 at an enterprise value of $620 million. The round was flushed out with investment from LRVHealth and OSF Ventures.
Will Cowen, general partner of LRVHealth, Stan Lynall, the vice president of investments for OSF Ventures, and James Outland, managing partner of New Capital Partners will join DotCom Therapy’s board. In total, the company has raised $14 million in funding.
Before the pandemic, Robinson says the greatest barrier to success would have been hooking school districts and families on teletherapy. The pandemic has changed that outlook significantly.
In response to COVID-19, restrictions on reimbursement for telehealth services, as well as geographic requirements for telehealth services were loosened. Use of telehealth services peaked in April 2020, but has since stabilized at about 38 times pre-pandemic usage, according to a July 2021 McKinsey report.
With a move outside of school-based partners, DotCom Therapy will be entering into the wider sphere of mental health and telehealth, where there’s a significant amount of competition. Those range from unicorns like TalkSpace to other startups.
At least in Robinson’s view, a specific focus on kids’ telehealth, and the specific disciplines of occupational and speech therapy will help to set DotCom apart in an increasingly crowded space.
“The majority of our competitors, I like to think, are the Teladocs, or the Gingers. But for them, the main focus has been on the adult population,” she says.
DotCom Therapy does have general research backing the idea that online speech and occupational therapy for kids works. One systematic review of seven studies on telehealth-delivered speech and language therapy made significant improvements in children’s language skills that were comparable to in-person therapy – though the research is still limited.
In general, a lack of platform specific validation has common critique for other mental-health telemedicine companies. DotCom Therapy has released white papers suggesting children have benefited from their teletherapy program. However, Robinson didn’t disclose any additional ongoing validation studies focused specifically on DotCom’s service.
Instead she notes that the company has worked with two advisors Andre Ostrovsky, a former chief medical officer of Medicaid and Colleen Kraft, a past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to develop and track outcome metrics for each service.
“This will include DSM-5 cross cutting measures, ASHA’s functional communication metrics & proprietary occupational therapy outcomes generated from a team of occupational therapists from masters to doctorate level,” says Robinson.
On the business side, DotCom’s current school district based approach is a multifaceted process – it takes more than just downloading an app. In one sense, they provide a service rather than just a platform.
DotCom Therapy aims to become embedded within school districts the company works with. If a school has about 150 students that require speech therapy, for instance, DotCom Therapy will determine how many therapists they believe a school might need.
“We have a proprietary calculator that we’re able to identify the number of therapists that we need to deploy for that specific location,” Robinson says. Overall it takes about 21 days to match therapists with students, per DotCom Therapy’s website.
DotCom Therapy will also coordinate with administrators at K-12 school districts who can be in the room while kids participate in therapy (there’s a video of how that works here), and will also handle the scheduling, and tracking of all student sessions.
So far, DotCom Therapy has employed about 200 therapists, says Robinson, who are all employed as W-2 employees, rather than independent contractors. The company has about a 97 percent retention rate for employees, says Robinson. On the customer side, the company has retained about 90 percent of customers.
With this Series A round, Robinson says the company is focusing on expansion into all fifty states by January, and by building out the services for private families.
“I just feel a lot of urgency for us to grow quickly, but in a very smart way to be able to meet the demand without compromising quality. So what keeps me up at night is really making sure that we can grow at a healthy pace,” says Robinson.
Revitalized by the pandemic, entrepreneurs are on the hunt to refresh some of education’s most traditional tenets, from flashcards to tutors to after-school programs. And those aren’t just bets: They’re unicorn-valued businesses looking to capitalize on consumers’ newfound digital adoption.
The edtech sector’s boom is rivaled by that of the creator economy, which promises to help creators monetize and democratize their passions, all while maintaining their identity. The creator economy has grown over the past year due to an increased appetite for digital content from at-home eyeballs and a wave of new creators eager to meet demand.
Edtech and the creator economy certainly differ in the problems they try to solve: Finding a VR solution to make online STEM classes more realistic is a different nut to crack than streamlining all of a creator’s different monetization strategies into one platform. Still, the two sectors have found common ground in the past year — as encapsulated by the rise of cohort-based class platforms.
At large, cohort-based platforms help experts launch classes for their communities, no previous teaching experience required. Students move through the class together — ergo “cohort” — with the expert on-demand as a sounding board. It’s a bet on education, but it also allows an individual to showcase their passion by pushing all their chips to the center of the table rather than working for an institution. While the idea of experts teaching a group of people isn’t exactly new, it’s being refreshed by a wave of new startups.
It’s not a simple overlap, entrepreneurs and investors say. Some fear that turning creators into educators could bring in a rush of unqualified teachers with no understanding of true pedagogy, while others think that the true democratization of education requires a disruption of who is traditionally given the right to educate.
Anyone’s a teacher!
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and traditional institutions are built around the belief that students want to learn from accredited teachers, while many cohort-based platforms are forming around a more controversial, yet compelling, ethos: Anyone can be a teacher. The idea of empowering people to monetize their talents is a page directly out of the creator economy rulebook.
In other words, instead of convincing a college professor to teach in their spare time, what if you convinced the star product manager at a tech startup to launch a class sharing their tips and trade secrets? It’s not a theory; it’s a venture-backed business. Mighty Networks raised a $50 million Series B to help its creators launch classes. Last month, Nas Academy raised $11 million to help creators launch their own MasterClass-type series. Then there’s Maven, an early-stage edtech company that raised millions before it even had a name — and led the charge on popularizing cohort-based classes as a branding move to begin with.
These companies sit at the intersection of edtech — and its evolving views on how education should look — and the creator economy, with its empowering premise of “individuals as a business.”
Mark Tan has taken part in a dozen fellowships and received years of coaching through his years in tech. For Tan, who moved from the Philippines to the United States, the allure of virtual classes has always been the network of students also participating in the program. That virtual networking led him to stints at Amazon and Twitch, and, most recently, he spent the last three years working as a director of product at Wyze.
The realization that “you don’t need to be an expert teacher, just an expert” is what eventually gave Tan the confidence to launch a course of his own on Maven. It will begin in a few weeks and is about community-driven product development.
“I’ve been in fellowships with people who are really well known, and sometimes it’s hard to connect with them because they’ve been in my shoes five or 10 years ago,” he said. “I think there’s an overreliance on the expert being the teacher.
“Over time, what I realized is that there’s way more stuff to learn from other people, so I spent more time connecting to [my peers] rather than spending time listening to the lecture.”
His four-week class was originally priced at $799 but now costs $599 and requires a commitment of five to 10 hours per week. Programming will range from live weekly workshops and open Q&As to guest speakers and peer-to-peer networking.
In many ways, Tan is the quintessential example that cohort-based platform founders look for when trying to bring creators onto their service. He has experience at big, well-known companies, has spent years experiencing the product he is now selling and has a passion for education after seeing the benefit of peer-to-peer learning firsthand.
“The best teachers are the ones who haven’t been teachers before,” said Ana Fabrega, who spent years as a primary school teacher before joining Synthesis, an online enrichment school inspired by Elon Musk’s Ad Astra model. “I think that the instinct of a teacher is to jump in and try to control, over-engineer and plan everything so kids don’t struggle … but I think the approach that works the best is [by doing] the opposite.”
Synthesis focuses more on creating good facilitators that can sense engagement and create intimacy with students than educators who focus on a specific curriculum to hit certain metrics, Fabrega explained.
“We really want to make sure that the kids are the ones in charge and doing all the heavy lifting, not the teachers,” she said.
A discussion about the grave consequences of missed learning — and the urgency of keeping kids in the classroom.
Hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young adults get on flights each year from India to a foreign land to pursue higher education. Upon landing, they face myriad challenges. One big one: They don’t have a local credit history, so they can’t avail a range of financial services, including a loan or a credit card — at least not without paying a premium for it.
For banks and other financial institutions, there is an increased risk when they engage with foreigners, so they charge more. An Indian student studying in the U.S., for instance, borrows money at an interest rate of over 13%, nearly twice of what their local peers are charged.
Leap Finance, a two-and-a-half-year old startup with headquarters in San Francisco and Bangalore, is attempting to solve this problem — and many others. The startup, which sits at the intersection of fintech and edtech, grants loans to students at a fair interest rate by evaluating the data they generated — alternative and derived — in India itself.
But in recent years, Leap Finance has aggressively expanded its offerings to provide what it calls a broader infrastructure to enable students to pursue international higher education.
The startup is helping students with guidance on admission, visas, and test preparation. Leap has developed a community of over 1 million students where they advise each other and explore options. Leap Finance said it has helped over 60,000 students in their study abroad journey over the last 18 months — and just had its strongest fall season.
And as is common in the startup ecosystem, such growth is usually followed by strong interest from investors. Which brings us to the development the startup shared on Wednesday.
Leap Finance has announced it has raised $55 million in a new financing round led by Owl Ventures. The Series C round also saw participation from Harvard Management Company, more popularly known for being a high-profile LP to venture funds. Existing investors Sequoia Capital India and Jungle Ventures also participated in the round, which follows a Series B funding in March this year, and brings Leap Finance’s all-time raise to over $75 million.
Since we last spoke about Leap Finance, the startup has demonstrated strong growth on various fronts, said Arnav Kumar, co-founder of Leap Finance, in an interview with TechCrunch. Its community has grown, the test preparation app is increasingly becoming popular, and its core financial services has also surged, he said.
On top of this, the startup has expanded its offerings to help students with preparing for — and landing — internships when they do join a college abroad, solving another aspect in which they struggle.
Now with the new funding, the startup is planning to expand to serve international markets including Middle East and Southeast Asia and help the students pursue higher education in 20 nations, said Kumar, who previously worked as an associate vice president at venture fund Elevation Capital.
“Leap is on the trajectory to become the preeminent study abroad platform for students. The overseas education market is fragmented where there is no single one-stop solution,” said Amit Patel, Managing Director of Owl Ventures, in a statement.
“It can be very confusing for students to know where to begin preparation, what colleges they should target, and how they are going to afford to pay for their education. Leap is creating a comprehensive platform that addresses all of these preparation and financing needs for students. Owl Ventures is excited to deepen our partnership with Vaibhav, Arnav, and the Leap team to make studying abroad a reality for as many students as possible.”
This is a developing story. More to follow…
Speech recognition technology is finally working for kids.
That wasn’t the case back in 1999, when my colleagues at Scholastic Education and I launched a reading intervention program called READ 180. We’d hoped to incorporate voice-enabled capabilities: Children would read to a computer program, which would provide real-time feedback on their fluency and literacy. Teachers, in turn, would receive information about their students’ progress.
Unfortunately, our idea was 20 years ahead of the technology, and we moved ahead with READ 180 without speech-recognition capabilities. Even at the height of the dot-com bubble, speech recognition for classrooms was still largely the stuff of science fiction.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning hadn’t enabled us to map the terabytes of data required to block out ambient noise in busy classrooms. Nor had it evolved to grasp the complexity of children’s voices, which have different pitches and speech patterns than those of adults, much less recognize a variety of dialects and accents, and — last but not least — manage children’s less-than-predictable behaviors when engaging with technology.
At Scholastic, we didn’t want to tell kids they were mastering something when they weren’t, and we understood the profound implications of telling a young student they got something wrong when they were actually right.
Fast forward to today. Speech recognition has advanced to the point where it can recognize and process children’s speech and account for differences in accents or dialects. Companies like Dublin-based SoapBox Labs have developed speech-recognition technology that is modeled on the diversity of children’s voices you’d find in a busy playground or classroom. Thanks to the high accuracy and performance of this technology, elementary school educators can now rely on it to help them gauge students’ progress with more regularity and offer more personalized approaches to their instruction.
Such advances could not have come at a more crucial moment.
Even before the pandemic, more than 80% of children from economically disadvantaged families failed to reach reading proficiency by fourth grade. After a year of separation from skilled educators, fumbling with technology designed for adults and vast gaps in digital equity, students had learned just 87% of the reading that they would have in a typical year, according to a report from McKinsey & Co. They lost an average of three months of learning during spring school closures.
Not surprisingly, reading losses were especially acute in schools that serve mostly students of color, where reading scores were just 77% of the historical average.
As students return to classrooms, speech recognition can revolutionize education — not to mention remote learning and entertainment in the home — by transforming the way children interact with technology. Voice-enabled literacy, as well as math and language programs, can further professionalize the field by taking the administrative work out of measuring a child’s learning rate and acquisition of foundational skills.
For example, speech recognition can generate regular and valuable insights into a student’s reading progress, pick up on patterns or isolate areas where improvement is needed. Teachers can review the progress and assessment data generated by voice-enabled tools, adapt the learning paths for each child’s needs, screen for challenges such as dyslexia and schedule timely interventions when necessary.
Voice-enabled reading tools allow every child to spend time reading aloud and receiving feedback during the school day, something that simply isn’t practical for one teacher to offer. To put the challenge in perspective: 15 minutes of individual time per child in a class of 25 would eat up more than six hours of a teacher’s day, every day. That sort of individualized observation and assessment was a persistent challenge for teachers before COVID-19. It becomes even more challenging with the emergence of remote learning and as students return to school with unprecedented educational and emotional issues.
Speech recognition technology also has the potential to increase equity in the classroom. Human reading assessment is, after all, highly subjective, and recent studies have shown variances of up to 18% caused by assessor bias. The child-centered high-accuracy speech recognition available today overcomes inevitable human bias by ensuring that every child’s voice is understood regardless of accent or dialect.
In a few years, this technology will be part of every classroom instruction, accelerating the reading — and math and language — skills of young students. Educators will find it enables them to be more strategic in their instruction. And it holds tremendous promise for something desperately needed in the era of COVID-19: technology that can significantly improve reading outcomes and tackle the global literacy crisis in a real and profound way.
Outdated textbooks, not enough teachers, no ventilation – for millions of kids like Harvey Ellington, the public-education system has failed them their whole lives.
Everything is switching from offline to online mode, spurred by the pandemic, and that also has turned around things for the creative economy. Creative professionals continue to look for ways to monetize their talents and knowledge through online education platforms like Class 101 that bring stable incomes and improve opportunities.
Class 101, a Seoul-based online education platform, announced today it has closed $25.8 million (30 billion won) Series B funding to accelerate its growth in South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.
The Series B round was led by Goodwater Capital, with additional participation from previous backers Strong Ventures, KT Investment, Mirae Asset Capital and Klim Ventures.
In 2019, the company raised a $10.3 million (12 billion won) Series A round led by SoftBank Ventures Asia along with Mirae Asset Venture Investment, KT Investment, Strong Ventures and SpringCamp.
Co-founder and CEO of Class 101 Monde Ko told TechCrunch that the company will use the proceeds to focus on hiring more talent, as well as expanding domestic business and overseas markets in the U.S. and Japan.
Ko and four other co-founders established Class 101 in 2018, which was pivoted from a tutoring service platform that was founded in 2015, Ko said. It has 350 employees now.
“We will keep supporting creators to monetize their talents and we will also allow creators to expand their revenue streams by selling their goods, digital files and more products via our platform,” Ko said.
When asked about what differentiated it from other peers, Class 101 provides and ships all the necessary tools and material “Class Kit”, Ko said.
The company offers more than 2,000 classes within a raft of categories, with drawing, crafts, photography, cooking, music and more. It also provides about 230 classes in the U.S. and 220 classes in Japan. There are approximately 100,000 registered creators and 3 million registered users as of August 2021.
Class 101 launched its platform in the U.S. in 2019 and entered Japan last year. The company opened online classes for kids aged under 14 in 2020.
“Class 101 is a company that combines the advantages of Patreon and YouTube, offering tailored support for creators while fulfilling users’ learning needs,” co-founder and managing partner at Goodwater Capital Eric Kim said, adding that it is the fastest growing company “in an economic phenomenon in which individuals follow their passions and do what they really enjoy while also making a living from it.”
Panorama Education, which has built out a K-12 education software platform, has raised $60 million in a Series C round of funding led by General Atlantic.
Existing backers Owl Ventures, Emerson Collective, Uncork Capital, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Tao Capital Partners also participated in the financing, which brings the Boston-based company’s total raised since its 2012 inception to $105 million.
Panorama declined to reveal at what valuation the Series C was raised, nor did it provide any specific financial growth metrics. CEO and co-founder Aaron Feuer did say the company now serves 13 million students in 23,000 schools across the United States, which means that 25% of American students are enrolled in a district served by Panorama today.
Over 50 of the largest 100 school districts and state agencies in the country use its platform. In total, more than 1,500 school districts are among its customers. Clients include the New York City Department of Education, Clark County School District in Nevada, Dallas ISD in Texas and the Hawaii Department of Education, among others.
Since March 2020, Panorama has added 700 school districts to its customer base, nearly doubling the 800 it served just 18 months prior, according to Feuer.
Just what does Panorama do exactly? In a nutshell, the SaaS business surveys students, parents and teachers to collect actionable data. Former Yale graduate students Feuer and Xan Tanner started the company in an effort to figure out the best way for schools to collect and understand feedback from their students.
With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to many students attending school virtually, the need to address students’ social and emotional needs has probably never been more paramount. Many children and teenagers have suffered depression and anxiety due to being isolated from their peers, and some believe the impact on their mental health has been even greater than any negative academic repercussions.
Students, for example, are asked questions to determine how safe they feel at school, how much they trust their teachers and how much potential they think they have.
“We help schools survey students, teachers and parents to understand the environment and experiences of the school,” Feuer told TechCrunch. “And then we help schools measure social and emotional development so that in the same way you might have rigorous data on math, you can now get information about social emotional learning and well-being.”
In the past year, for example, 25 million people across the country have taken a Panorama survey, which has resulted in quite a bit of information. The company is able to integrate with all of a district’s existing data systems so that it can pull together a “panorama” of its data, plus the information about a student.
“It’s really powerful because a teacher can then log in and see everything about a student in one place,” Feuer said. “But most importantly, we give teachers the tools to plan actions for a student.”
The company claims that by using its software, districts can see benefits such as improved graduation rates, fewer behavior referrals, more time engaged in learning and students building “stronger supportive relationships with adults and peers.”
Panorama plans to use its new capital toward continued product development, further deepening its district partnerships and naturally, toward hiring. Panorama currently has about 250 employees.
Notably, Panorama had not raised capital in a couple of years simply because, according to Feuer, it did not need the money.
“We met General Atlantic and realized the opportunity to reach the next level of impact for our schools,” he told TechCrunch. “But it was important to me that we didn’t need to raise the money. We chose to because we want to be able to invest in the business.”
Tanzeen Syed, managing director at General Atlantic, said edtech has been an important area of focus for this firm.
“When we looked at the U.S. education system, we thought that there was a massive opportunity and that we’re in the very early innings of using software and technology to really enhance the student experience,” he said.
When it came to Panorama, he believes “it’s not just a business” for the company.
“They truly and deeply care about providing students and administrators with the tools to make the student experience better,” Syed told TechCrunch. “And they’re maniacally focused on developing the sort of product to allow them to do that. In addition to that, we spoke with a lot of schools and districts and the feedback came back consistently positive.”
Languages that contain only “he” and “she” pronouns pose problems for communicating about gender identity. Here’s how some language teachers are helping.
They can be valuable resources to help parents teach children about money — but may encourage risky behaviors, some experts say.
Finding the right learning platform can be difficult, especially as companies look to upskill and reskill their talent to meet demand for certain technological capabilities, like data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence roles.
Workera.ai’s approach is to personalize learning plans with targeted resources — both technical and nontechnical roles — based on the current level of a person’s proficiency, thereby closing the skills gap.
The Palo Alto-based company secured $16 million in Series A funding, led by New Enterprise Associates, and including existing investors Owl Ventures and AI Fund, as well as individual investors in the AI field like Richard Socher, Pieter Abbeel, Lake Dai and Mehran Sahami.
Kian Katanforoosh, Workera’s co-founder and CEO, says not every team is structured or feels supported in their learning journey, so the company comes at the solution from several angles with an assessment on mentorship, where the employee wants to go in their career and what skills they need for that, and then Workera will connect those dots from where the employee is in their skillset to where they want to go. Its library has more than 3,000 micro-skills and personalized learning plans.
“It is what we call precision upskilling,” he told TechCrunch. “The skills data then can go to the organization to determine who are the people that can work together best and have a complementary skill set.”
Workera was founded in 2020 by Katanforoosh and James Lee, COO, after working with Andrew Ng, Coursera co-founder and Workera’s chairman. When Lee first connected with Katanforoosh, he knew the company would be able to solve the problem around content and basic fundamentals of upskilling.
It raised a $5 million seed round last October to give the company a total of $21 million raised to date. This latest round was driven by the company’s go-to-market strategy and customer traction after having acquired over 30 customers in 12 countries.
Over the past few quarters, the company began working with Fortune 500 companies, including Accenture and Siemens Energy, across industries like professional services, medical devices and energy, Lee said. As spending on AI skills is expected to exceed $79 billion by 2022, he says Workera will assist in closing the gap.
“We are seeing a need to measure skills,” he added. “The size of the engagements are a sign as is the interest for tech and non-tech teams to develop AI literacy, which is a more pressing need.”
As a result, it was time to increase the engineering and science teams, Katanforoosh said. He plans to use the new funding to invest in more talent in those areas and to build out new products. In addition, there are a lot of natural language processes going on behind the scenes, and he wants the company to better understand it at a granular level so that the company can assess people more precisely.
Carmen Chang, general partner and head of Asia at NEA, said she is a limited partner in Ng’s AI fund and in Coursera, and has looked at a lot of his companies.
She said she is “very excited” to lead the round and about Workera’s concept. The company has a good understanding of the employee skill set, and with the tailored learning program, will be able to grow with company needs, Chang added.
“You can go out and hire anyone, but investing in the people that you have, educating and training them, will give you a look at the totality of your employees,” Chang said. “Workera is able to go in and test with AI and machine learning and map out the skill sets within a company so they will be able to know what they have, and that is valuable, especially in this environment.”
It isn’t only tech giants that are struggling to fill open roles with talented individuals, it’s your local Jamba Juice, too.
Since 2017, San Francisco-based Workstream has been working on an answer to recruitment for the hourly worker. The subset of employees are in high demand right now by employers managing high turnover, as the labor market evolves amid the pandemic. These tailwinds in mind, Workstream announced today that it has landed a new round of financing to scale its recruitment efforts.
Workstream has raised $48 million in a Series B round co-led by Mary Meeker’s BOND and Coatue, with notable investors including Zoom CEO Eric Yuan and DoorDash CEO Tony Xu. Jay Simons, a GP at BOND and former president of Atlassian, joined Workstream’s board of directors. The raise comes a little over one year since Workstream raised $10 million in a Series A led by Founders Fund.
Per CEO and co-founder Desmond Lim, Workstream landed 12 term sheets in 9 days. He chalked up the interest to investors appreciating his startup’s differentiation among the flurries of other recruiting tools out there.
Even in the crowded world of recruitment software, Workstream has been able to carve out some attention for itself by focusing on text-based recruiting. Front-line and deskless workers are often the most disconnected members of the global job force due to a lack of access to company-issued e-mail addresses. Thus, by Workstream communicating with candidates over text, it is able to give workers on the go some real-time updates. This differentiation of mobile-based recruitment has helped bring down the time to hire for employers too, by bringing candidates in by going to where they already are.
Lim, who grew up in Singapore with parents who both spent their days as hourly workers, sees this strategy working. In July, his company filled more than 18,000 jobs. Down the road, Workstream wants to serve hourly workers in healthcare and retail.
“There’s a football field [of software] for hiring software engineers,” Lim said. “But if you think about hiring for this space, there’s very few of us – and I think that has really helped us to go far from a team point of view, client sales, and even trying to raise funding.
While Workstream didn’t disclose specifics on revenue, it said that it has experienced “10X” ARR in the past year. One signal that it’s doing ok? The company has 1,500 customers across 10,000 different stores, which include the likes of McDonalds, Subway, and of course, Jamba Juice. Lim claims that Workstream has 20% market share in the top 20 brands.
Workstream views itself as an end-to-end recruitment tool for the hourly worker, but its distribution is still tied to the some 25,000 job boards that it partners with to post listings. Lim said that his company is more focused on the “recruitment and engagement” bit of hiring, “helping to push people through the funnel very fast” versus trying to get them in the funnel in the first place.
“Our Shared Future: Reckoning With Our Racial Past” will begin with a livestreamed program Thursday and expand to communities across the country.
Nearly every top investment bank is chasing Byju’s and nudging the most valuable Indian startup to seriously explore the public markets as soon as next year.
Most banks have given Byju’s a proposed valuation in the range of $40 to $45 billion, but some including Morgan Stanley have pitched a $50 billion valuation if the startup lists next year, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
The startup, which has raised $1.5 billion since the beginning of the pandemic last year, was most recently valued at $16.5 billion.
The banks’ excitement comes as the Indian public market has shown a glimpse of strong appetite for consumer tech stocks. Food delivery Zomato had a stellar $1.3 billion debut on Indian stock exchanges last month. Scores of other top startups including Paytm, PolicyBazaar, Nykaa, Ixigo, and MobiKwik have also filed paperworks for their IPOs.
Byju Raveendran (pictured above), the founder and chief executive of the eponymous startup, has publicly suggested in the past that he may list the firm in two to three years. According to a senior executive, who wish to not be named as the matter is private, and an investor, the startup has not set a concrete timeline for an IPO.
In the immediate future, odds of Byju’s raising again is high. The startup has received several inbound requests from investors to raise at a valuation of about $21.5 billion, the people said.
The startup has use a significant portion of its recent fundraises to acquire firms. Earlier this year, it acquired Indian physical coaching institute Aakash for nearly $1 billion. It has also acquired Great Learning, and U.S.-based Epic, among others, for over $1 billion in cash and stock deals.
Byju’s prepares students pursuing undergraduate and graduate-level courses, and in recent years it has also expanded its catalog to serve all school-going students. Tutors on the Byju’s app tackle complex subjects using real-life objects such as pizza and cake.
The pandemic, which prompted New Delhi to enforce a months-long nationwide lockdown and close schools, accelerated its growth, and those of several other online learning startups including Unacademy and Vedantu.
As of early this year, Byju’s said it had amassed over 80 million users, 5.5 million of whom are paying subscribers. Byju’s, which is profitable, is on track to generate revenue of $300 million in the U.S. this year (per Raveendran), and as high as $1.1 billion in revenue overall by the end of the calendar year, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Byju’s declined to comment.
“In order to become a better writer, read your written words out loud.”
That’s one of the first, and best, writing tips I ever received. I always found the advice ironic because it required me to change the medium of my writing to become a better writer. Still, all these years later, it’s true: vocalizing your words helps identify typos and incomplete thoughts, but also notice more subtle things like awkward turns of phrases or a weird rhythm in your sentence structure. Best of all, if you find yourself bored of your own text while reading out loud, you know readers will be, too.
This is all to say that writing, even for those who love writing, is a deeply human art built on top of nonobvious rules. While those complications don’t exactly scream for a tech solution, NoRedInk, a San Francisco-based startup, has spent nearly a decade trying to help students get better at their writing through software.
NoRedInk announced today that its digital writing curriculum, which pairs adaptive learning with Mad Libs-style prompts, has helped it raise a $50 million Series B led by Susquehanna Growth Equity, with participation from True Ventures. Other investors in the company include GSV, Rethink Education and Kapor Capital.
The financing event comes nearly six years after its Series A, a signal that the company has ambition to scale meaningfully in the coming months and years. With millions more, though, NoRedInk has to address its biggest challenge: the intricacies of the subject matter that it wants to make simple.
Founder and CEO Jeff Scheur built NoRedInk in 2012 when he was an English teacher in Chicago. The site served as a way to help kids get more than “red ink” on their papers, a nod at how teachers often use red ink to mark corrections and suggestions on assignments.
“Kids get feedback on their paper and they have no idea what to do with it,” Scheur said. “They see the grade, but they tend to just throw it out… so I figured out how to help them apply very difficult-to-learn skills that we expect kids to know, but don’t explicitly teach them.”
Since launch, NoRedInk’s goal is to help students with writing skills ranging from how to structure an essay to how to cut fluff from their arguments to how to cite correctly.
“One of the great challenges about teaching writing is that we want to demystify the process of becoming a great writer without reducing the art form of expression,” he said. “So that means providing kids with lots of targeted personalized practice, and helping them realize that there’s no one way to write.”
It thus makes sense that NoRedInk uses adaptive learning, an educational method that uses an algorithm to get inputs of learners, such as strength areas or preferences, to create an output that better meets them where they are. After asking students for their favorite characters and role models, NoRedInk creates personalized writing exercises targeting each student’s interests, then guides them through the writing process with light support.
Scheur described part of the goal of NoRedInk as “breaking down difficult to learn skills with various degrees of scaffolding.”
To date, more than 10 billion exercises have been completed on NoRedInk’s practice engine — which is data the company uses to underscore problem areas, shared struggles and potential blind spots of traditional curriculum for its districts.
NoRedInk has a free-but-limited version of its platform for teachers to try, but offers a full-fledged premium version that integrates with learning management systems and other classrooms to offer a school and district a view of progress.
As the business expands, NoRedInk might need to get deeper into drafts in order to win over market share. Will it ever play the role of suggesting tone the way that AI-based grammar and writing unicorn Grammarly does? For now, it appears not.
“Grammarly is a modern-day spellcheck,” Scheur said. “NoRedInk is very different; it’s what schools and districts use to teach skills.”
Are students being taught that the United States is racist? Should they be?