December 12, 2018
Category archive


Language learning app Babbel sold 1M US subscriptions this year, moves into language travel

in Apps/babbel/Delhi/disrupt berlin 2018/Education/India/M&A/Politics/TC by

In the world of online language learning, there are basically two heavyweights: Duolingo and Babbel. Duolingo is betting on a freemium model and a strong focus on using algorithms to help you learn better, while Berlin-based Babbel is a paid service that employs hundreds of teachers. As Babbel co-founder and CEO Markus Witte announced at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin today, his company is now moving into a new area of language learning with the launch of a language travel marketplace. The company also today announced that it now has over 1 million paying users in the United States.

This new service, which is scheduled to go live next year, is the result of the previously undisclosed acquisition of a Lingo Ventura, a Berlin-based startup that partners with international language schools and local providers to offer a language travel booking platform. As Witte told me ahead of today’s announcement, Lingo Ventura already had connections with 200 language schools in 30 countries. The company never quite managed to make a dent in this market, which has traditionally been quite fragmented.

Witte believes that Babbel, thanks to its existing user base, will be able to turn this into a profitable business, though. “There is a lot of potential here because the current market is not very transparent,” Witte told me. “In Europe, our brand is so well-known now that we are the first stop for learning languages.” And that brand awareness will surely help drive interest in this new platform. The person who uses the company’s app has, after all, already shown interest in learning languages and a willingness to pay for that.

While language travel is quite popular in Europe, it remains a bit of a foreign concept in the United States and few people specifically travel abroad to learn a language. This isn’t a small market, though. In Germany alone, market revenue was about €220 million in 2017, and the various companies that play in this space booked about 150,000 travel bookings last year.

Unsurprisingly, Babbel will first focus its marketing efforts for its yet-to-be-named travel marketplace (I think Babbel Travel is a safe bet) on Europe. The platform, however, is global, and Babbel isn’t going to stop anybody from booking through its platform, of course.

As far as the U.S. language travel market is concerned, though, Babbel expects that it’ll be able to pull in some customers there, too. “It’s not zero,” the company’s U.S. CEO Julie Hansen told me when I asked her about that market. “I think in due course, we’ll discover if there’s a place for us. In a way, you can serve a market better that is so fragmented and ill-defined.” North America in general has generated quite a bit of growth for Babbel recently, especially since it appointed Hansen as a CEO there, though it remains to be seen if travel will become a major revenue source for the company there.

No matter in which geography it will operate, though, Babbel will work with partners, and not run its own programs. “That was a strategic decision on our part,” said Witte. “We want to work with partners, and if we make acquisitions, those are almost always about building bridges to our partners.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Apoll01 wants to remake education by decentralizing the diploma

in America/Battlefield/berlin/Betsy DeVos/Clayton Christensen/Coursera/Delhi/Department of Education/Education/edX/Entrepreneur/harvard university/higher education/India/MIT/Next Gen/online education/open educational resources/Politics/San Francisco/TC/udacity/United States/university by

Dan Genduso spent nearly a decade working in consulting before landing on the Disrupt Berlin stage to launch his first startup, Apoll01 — a small company with a big idea about how to solve America’s expanding education crisis. 

First at Accenture and then at Slalom Consulting in San Francisco, Genduso focused on building out customer engagement platforms that captured the workflows, institutional knowledge and digital assets surrounding the development of customer profiles.

“I was building those out and personalizing products and advertisements to people,” Genduso recalled. “I got kind of tired of doing that and started to notice that there were other applications for this technology to enable people instead of enabling companies.”

That realization started Genduso on the path that would culminate with the launch of Apoll01 and its first product, a digital identity management tool, built on Hyperledger, that the Apoll01 founder hopes will be the first step in the transformation of the American educational system.

There’s no doubt that education in the U.S. is at a tipping point. Whether or not anyone ascribes to the belief of Harvard University Professor Clayton Christensen, the progenitor of the popular theory of disruptive innovation, who predicts that “50 percent of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years,” there’s no arguing against the fact that a wave of attrition is coming for higher education in the country.

That statistic is sobering, but debatable. However, even the Department of Education and Moody’s Investor Services predict that the number of college and university closures will triple in the coming years. 

What’s worrying to Genduso is that this thinning of educational opportunity for students is occurring alongside what will be rising demand for new skill sets as automation transforms the workforce.

Longer term, Genduso sees Apoll01 as a new platform for managing labor in the age of automation. In a future where automation has erased traditional notions of work, Genduso sees people operating in a more flexible and attenuated gig economy where workers will be matched with short-term projects in the same way that Uber drivers are now matched with riders. He thinks that Apoll01 will be the ledger that has a full accounting of its users’ skillsets and is able to match them with the jobs that need to be filled.

“The same way I was automating operations of a company by making it so there’s no middle man, I realized I could match people to education and to work without the middleman as well,” Genduso says.

That’s the long-term vision, but the first step is getting an identity management system to store all of the different accreditations, certificates and skills that a person has amassed over their educational career in a single place. And that’s what Genduso is launching on the Disrupt stage.

“Right now, think about how there are online training platforms like Salesforce’s Trailhead,” said Genduso. “There are industry-specific schools like blockchain schools. You have specialized training schools and then you have Coursera and Udacity. There’s nothing that’s pulling those things together to put a school system together. No one is pulling that together to create an accreditation and acknowledge that what you’re learning counts.”

That vision was enough to earn Genduso a finalist slot in the U.S. Department of Education’s “Reimagining the Higher Education Ecosystem Challenge” and garner praise from the country’s controversial Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Apoll01 was among a number of companies including Competency Catalyst, EdRec: Next Gen by Design, and FlexchainEdu, trying to create ways for skills learned outside of the traditional classroom to be acknowledged by employers and traditional universities.

Other companies, like Learning Machine, raised $3 million to pursue putting digital diplomas on the blockchain. In fact, traditional universities have already acknowledged the value of the tools and services that Genduso is hoping to develop. In September, Genduso was accepted into the University of Southern California’s Rossier EdVentures education technology incubator.

“The original use case of this product was to start within universities to better understand their students and personalize online education for their students. [Universities] wanted to better understand what their students had been learning outside of the university system from other online learning platforms,” Genduso says.

However, the entrepreneur soon realized that for Apoll01 to be successful, it would have to be independent from the university system.

“The only way there could be a profile that moves outside of the university and within the university was through an independent profile,” says Genduso. So he developed an identity management tool on top of the Hyperledger Fabric open source blockchain toolkit.

Some universities are already putting diplomas and certifications on the blockchain. Learning Machine is working with MIT to put their certifications and digital diplomas into a cryptographically secured ledger, while Southern New Hampshire University and Central New Mexico Community College, both issue blockchain diplomas.

“I’m trying to get away from this world where everyone is screwing everything up by creating these closed systems for the user,” says Genduso. “I’m trying to get people who run these online institutions to get those pilot programs to get that started. My customer is not a university, my customer is every single person… I’m trying to do what’s best for them.”

Apoll01 already has its first customer, through a pilot with the blockchain based education company Teachur, but the company’s vision resonates with a number of different potential customers.

One of those could be edX, the online portal for massive open online courses (MOOCs) that were the darling of the education set only a few years ago. Writing in Quartz, edX chief executive, Anant Agarwal laid out a compelling rationale for Apoll01’s technology.

Education isn’t static. In this future, traditional degrees themselves may become antiquated, and employers will increasingly look for what multifarious skills learners know versus what degree they possess. Modular credentials will be ideal for working professionals who want to update their skillset to suit the shifting job market, better preparing students and adults alike for an excitingly unpredictable future.

Initially, Genduso sees his company getting traction by charging universities a small fee for access to the profiles that his users are generating. Eventually, Apoll01’s chief executive thinks there’s an opportunity to raise money through the tokenization of the platform, where advertisers, continuing education companies, and other vendors in the education space would pay for access to the profiles created on Apoll01’s platform. The key, for Genduso, is to make the system as accessible as possible for the students.

“In the next 10 to 15 years 50 percent of colleges and universities are going to be bankrupt and we’re also heading to a time when 10 percent to 15 percent of people are going to be out of work. When you look at that trajectory how do you as a person in the labor force properly prepare for that?” Genduso asked. “You can start building a profile where you’re building up a transcript that actually counts for something and you can get it from all of these different sources.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

LearnLux raises $2M from Sound Ventures, Marc Benioff to help employees make financial decisions

in Adam Nash/ashton kutcher/boston/Delhi/Education/Finance/India/Marc Benioff/Politics/Salesforce/sound ventures/Startups/TC/Venture Capital/Wealthfront by

Earlier this year, Rebecca Liebman impressed a panel of high-profile investors, including Ashton Kutcher and Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff, at a SXSW pitch competition. She won and Benioff wrote her a check for $200,000 on the spot.

Today, she’s announcing that her educational fintech startup LearnLux has closed a $2 million seed round from Kutcher’s investment firm Sound Ventures, Benioff, Underscore VC and former Wealthfront CEO Adam Nash. LearnLux operates under a SaaS model, partnering with businesses to offer access to its digital financial wellness product, which helps employees make important financial decisions.

The Boston-based startup was founded by Liebman, 25, and her brother, Michael Liebman, 22, in 2015.

“He was coding from his dorm room when we were first building the product,” Rebecca said. “We’ve had a really interesting experience from a young age. I was working at a lab at MIT with brilliant Ph.D. students and no one could figure out how to open a retirement account. Michael was working at a bank with people who studied finance who still couldn’t figure out how to open a retirement account.”

LearnLux provides interactive learning tools and educational content created in-house to guide workers through their 401k, health savings accounts or stock options, for example. Rebecca says they’ve signed on 10 customers since launching in September.

“There are all these financial decisions you have to make and we allow you to have an interactive experience online where you can playout what those decisions will look like,” she said.

“Finance has been made to confuse people. We had to figure out how to break it down and explain it in a way that makes sense … Whatever kind of learner you are, you will understand more about your financial decisions with [LearnLux.]”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Topica raises $50M for its online learning services in Southeast Asia

in Asia/Business/Delhi/Economy/Education/funding/Fundings & Exits/Google/India/Indonesia/Malaysia/Manila/NorthStar/openspace ventures/Philippines/Politics/Singapore/Southeast Asia/Startup company/startup ecosystem/TC/Thailand/vietnam by

Vietnam’s startup ecosystem is making forward progress. Just a week after 500 Startups’ local entity closed a $14 million fund for early-stage investments, one of the country’s elder statesmen of startups — educational service Topica — has closed its $50 million Series D.

The round — which is one of the highest to date for a Vietnamese tech company — comes from PE firm Northstar Group. Northstar, which manages some $2 billion in assets, is already linked to Topica via Openspace Ventures, the Singapore-based VC firm that is already an investor in the startup and counts Northstar among its LPs. (Openspace rebranded from NSI earlier this year, prior to which it was an arm of Northstar.)

Northstar’s total ownership stake is described as a minority but the exact size, and the valuation of the Topica business, hasn’t been revealed.

Topica was founded a decade ago at a launch event attended by Bill Gates, and since then it claims that it has helped more than one million adults through its online education platform. The business counted Microsoft and Qualcomm among its original sponsors and today it covers the six largest countries in Southeast Asia — Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. It offers a range of different services that include English-language tutoring and university-level courses, but it has expanded to less traditional disciplines including a ‘founders institute’ accelerator program and a 3D ‘technologies’ program.

On the higher education focus, Topica works with 16 universities to offer Batchelor degree qualifications. That program has graduated some 6,200 students, the company claimed. Its dropout rate is above 90 percent, according to its data.

Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, Head of Microsoft General Embassy Bill Gates and other sponsors’ launching the program in April 2006 [Image via Topica]

More recently, Topica has also opened a marketplace that includes over 2,000 “short skill courses” to help users learn to master Microsoft Office or video editing, for example.

Topica has 1,700 staff and 2,000 teaching instructors across offices in Bangkok, Danang, Hanoi, HCMC, Jakarta, Manila and Singapore. There’s no specific aim for the investment other than to further the company’s ongoing mission of helping reach more students using digital mediums.

“We have been blessed to work with great partners like Northstar and our existing investors, who are all enthusiastic about our vision of investing in the long term to help bring quality education to millions of learners in Southeast Asia and beyond,” Dr. Tuan Pham, Topica chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

Topica employees regularly take part in marathons, ironman competitions and more across Southeast Asia

In particular, you can likely expect that Topica will continue to push its business-building initiatives as Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem continues to grow. A recent report co-authored by Google forecast that the digital economy for the region — which houses over 650 million people — will triple over the next seven years. Topica claims that already it is invested in one-third of the startups in Vietnam that raised seed or Series A funding in 2016, so it seems entirely logical it’ll work to expand that to other markets.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Peer tutoring platform Knack raises $1.5M from Charles Hudson, Jeff Vinik

in College/Delhi/edtech/Education/India/Knack/online tutoring/Politics/Schools/students/tutoring by

Knack, a peer tutoring platform aimed at college students, is taking a different approach than some online tutoring marketplaces have in the past. As a result, the Florida-based startup has raised a $1.5 million seed round co-led by Charles Hudson’s Precursor Ventures and Tampa Bay Lighting owner and Fenway Sports Group Partner, Jeff Vinik.

Other investors in the round included Bisk Ventures, the corporate venture-arm of Bisk Education; Arizona State University Enterprise Partners; Doug Feirstein, founder of Hired, uSell, and Liveops; former State of Florida CFO Alex Sink; Tom DiBenedetto of Fenway Sports Group; PAR Inc.; and Elysium Venture Capital.

While many tutoring marketplaces have focused on only connecting students with others who could help them with their studies, Knack has been instead also focusing on adding institutional partners as its customers.

Today, it works with over 50 colleges across the U.S., like seed investor ASU, who are licensing Knack to modernize their student support services and increase access to supplemental help for students.

“Although most universities already have on-campus tutoring centers,” explains company co-founder and CEO Samyr Qureshi, “Knack partners with institutions as a technology-enabled supplemental solution, filling in the gaps by increasing course and topical coverage for nuanced courses that campus learning centers may not be able to cover due to budgetary and resource constraints,” he says.


In addition, Knack is also now working with corporate employer sponsors like PwC and ConnectWise who want to engage with high potential students from Knack’s  campus networks.

“We’re focusing on the full life cycle of learning from: ‘I need some help on Knack’ to ‘I can offer help through Knack’ to ‘my skills built and showcased through Knack helped me land a job,’” notes Qureshi.

The CEO says he was inspired to work in the edtech space because, as a first-generation immigrant, education has been at the forefront of his life. His mother brought Qureshi and his sister over to the U.S. to allow them to pursue college degrees.

During his own time in school, Qureshi both sought tutoring and tutored himself, which led him to believe that one of the best ways to learn was from a peer.

In 2016, the startup applied to the University of Florida’s Business Plan Competition and took home the first place, winning a $25,000 cash prize. That opened the door to venture capital, and its first pre-seed round of funding.

While institutions and businesses are the focus in terms of monetization, Knack still caters directly to students today. Those who need help with their coursework can use Knack to book tutoring, and those who want to offer their skills can create a tutoring profile with basic info like their bio, courses, rates and availability.

The platform then handles all the logistics, including searching, matching, scheduling, tracking, billing and rating and reviewing.

Knack takes a 20 percent service fee on this tier of its service. University partners are on SaaS-based annual platform, and Employer partners are charged a sponsorship amount depending on their targeting criteria.

The team of eight is based in Tampa, Florida and plans to use the seed funding for sales and marketing, as well as making some key engineering hires, the CEO says.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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