Before the pandemic, edtech companies went decades without raising financing due to lack of interest from generalist venture capitalists. Now, more than a year since COVID-19 began, the sector is showing signs of maturation, from first profits to unicorns, potential IPOs and a rush of talent.
Momentum in mind, cross-border venture capital firm SuperCharger Ventures is launching a debut accelerator exclusively for early-stage edtech founders. The 12-week accelerator, which kicks off today, is being held virtually, with six startups in the debut cohort.
Interestingly, this isn’t the firms’ first time doing an accelerator. SuperCharger has led three cohorts of startups through a fintech-focused accelerator. The pivot from one booming category to another boils down to a simple dynamic, says SuperCharger Ventures co-founder Janos Barberis: banks.
“Banks just don’t have the space or the bandwidth to start dealing with innovation right now,” Barberis said. The co-founder thinks that COVID-19 created a supply and demand unevenness between fintech services and banks, and as many branches struggle to stay open, “the first thing banks cut is innovation.”
So, the firm is hopping to edtech, and taking a key lesson with it from its fintech experience: the importance of B2B and recurring revenue streams.
“The corporate angle? It’s sticky, healthy and revenue driven,” Barberis said. “It’s healthy income, and I think right now investors are willing to pay for that healthy income.”
Financially, Barberis' argument is hard to disagree with. But when you look at some of the biggest edtech unicorns in this current moment, many are B2C, including Quizlet, Course Hero and ApplyBoard. It’s because in education, it sometimes can be easier to sell to the end-user than dealing with highly fragmented institutions -- at least in the United States.
Still, B2B businesses have the biggest potential for reach, and we’re seeing consumer businesses turn COVID-19 demand into enterprise deals. There’s also hope to be found internationally, which can sometimes have a less fragmented market of institutions, says Barberis.
Beyond B2B sales, cohort startups must be focused on expanding into European and Asian markets.
Barberis sees opportunity in those markets, minus China, because both appear to have gaps in edtech. In Europe, he says there’s a high demand for corporate digital learning from universities, and in Asia, he thinks that investor education is necessary so bets can be placed in countries beyond simply China. On one end there is demand, and on the other end there is opportunity to generate demand.
He leaves out China from the Asian market expansion because he thinks that the country, like the United States, is too saturated with companies right now.
The programming fits the normal accelerator model, with information tailored explicitly to the world of education, such as how to partner with an education institution or shorten sales cycles (as so much of edtech B2B sales happens during the summer months).
The firm doesn’t give any capital, but takes between 1-2% of equity in return for its services, which it estimates cost between $75,000 and $100,000 in “value.” SuperCharger culminates with a Demo Day, and companies in aggregate plan to raise between $15 to $20 million in venture capital.
This isn’t SuperCharger Ventures’ first time doing an accelerator. The firm held three fintech-focused accelerators in the past, graduating 49 companies. The pivot from one booming sector to another comes from fintech saturation, says Barberis.
Out of 208 applications, SuperCharger landed on six companies in its debut cohort:
Axon Park: Founded by Taylor Freeman, Axon Park is using virtual reality to virtually train workforces, such as teaching proper PPE procedures to healthcare professionals. It sells its programming to businesses, governments and universities.
BSD Education: Co-founded by Christopher Geary and Nickey Khemchandani, the startup sells tech curriculum to schools teaching students between the ages of eight and 18. Beyond curriculum, the startup offers professional training development for teachers and a platform for online learning to be held.
Newcampus: The startup, launched by Will Fan and Fei Yao, describes itself as a gym membership for learning experiences. It’s part of the wave of companies focused on lifelong learning, with a focus on leadership information.