Sunlight raises £500K seed for its employee learning and development platform

Sunlight, a London startup that offers an employee learning and development platform to let companies offer more bespoke professional development, has picked up £500,000 in seed backing. Leading the round is Speedinvest, with participation from previous backers Seedcamp, and Annection, amongst a number of individuals.

Founded in 2016 by brothers Carlos and Juan Lagrange, Sunlight is a SaaS designed to help businesses run individualised professional development programmes and is centred around the idea of empowering staff to take ownership of their professional development. The premise is that a new generation of employee puts a lot more value on learning and development as part of an overall benefits package. And for businesses to stay competitive, not least so-called scale-ups, they need to be proactive towards this trend.

Specifically, the Sunlight platform lets businesses allocate each team member with a learning and development budget — what they are allowed to spend on professional development each year — and provides related functionality, such as the approval of requests from employees (e.g. the purchase of books, courses and events), or the ability to create ‘learning playlists’.

Another aspect of Sunlight might be thought of as a learning and development concierge service: you aren’t restricted to the Sunlight marketplace, and, with the help of the Sunlight learning and development team or chatbot, can order products outside of it or ask for learning and development recommendations.

The startup is also talking up its use of data — like all startups are wont to do — and says that the platform is able to “spot trends, suggest new courses, and even flag when someone is looking at learning tools outside of their current job description”. At this point, I gather, the HR department can intervene to start a broader conversation about how your professional development can be best supported and presumably persuade you not to leave.

“Learning now happens to be the most desired benefit amongst newer generations entering the workforce, but organisations are struggling to create engaging learning and development programs for them. This translates into a disengaged workforce, high employee churn rate and decreased productivity at work,” co-founder and CEO Carlos Lagrange tells me. “Sunlight fixes this by providing a platform that helps companies grow a highly engaging learning culture that facilitates their team’s access to any book, event or course in the world.”

Longer term, Lagrange says the Sunlight vision is to help tackle the effect that automation will have on work, by being the platform that makes it possible for companies and eventually governments to invest in people’s professional development and growth. Re-skilling or lifelong learning, if it isn’t already, will become essential for much more of the population.

“It’s estimated that half of jobs in the world are at risk of being automated in the next 30 years. This will pose a massive need to up-skill and retrain millions of people for new jobs. More importantly however, it poses a need to entirely rethink the way we approach education and how we invest in people,” he says.

Meanwhile, the startup makes money by charging a SaaS fee of $3 per user per month for companies of over 30 employees. “For small startups under that size, we wanted to make it free as we believe investing in your team shouldn’t be something you leave until a later stage,” adds Lagrange. “In addition to the SaaS fee, we’re also starting to monetize on affiliate sales, meaning that every time someone purchases a book or a course we take a percentage from the end provider. Our long term plan is to scale our affiliate sales model to a point where we can minimize SaaS fees”.