Edtech startups flirt with unicorn-style growth

When Quizlet became a unicorn earlier this year, CEO Matthew Glotzbach said he’d prefer to distance the company from the common nomenclature for a startup valued at or above $1 billion.

“The way Quizlet has gotten to this point is by building and growing a very responsible business,” he said. “It’s the result of the hard work of the team for a decade. We’re much more like a camel.”

It’s clear, though, that the tides might be changing. In edtech, the rich are getting richer. Last week, Mountain View-based Coursera announced it had raised a $130 million Series F round a day after The Information broke a story about Udemy reportedly raising new financing at a $3 billion valuation.

For anyone who has been following my edtech coverage in recent few months, this momentum is hardly surprising. Earlier in the pandemic, MasterClass raised $100 million, Quizlet became a unicorn and Byju’s became India’s second-most-valuable startup.

While edtech’s boom is predictable, the industry is known — to the chagrin of founders and to the benefit of long-time investors — for being conservative. Today we’ll look to understand how a boost in late-stage funding may impact the market on a broader scale.

High-flying camels

Ian Chiu, an investor at Owl Ventures, tells TechCrunch that the rise of big rounds brings a “watershed moment” to the $6 trillion education market. Owl Ventures was founded in 2014 and is one of the biggest edtech-focused firms out there, but Chiu says the recent strong capital flow shows that the sector is finally emerging as a sector other investors are noticing.