Edtech’s reputation has been revitalized due to the coronavirus pandemic, which forced millions of students to adopt remote education overnight. But behind the scramble is a crop of investors who have long invested in the space — before it became cool.
To better understand what’s ahead, what’s hot, and what’s not, I’m talking to a trio of top investors in edtech at TechCrunch Disrupt: Ian Chiu of Owl Ventures, Mercedes Bent from Lightspeed, and Jennifer Carolan from Reach Capital. Between the three of them, they have stakes in category-defining upstarts like Byju, Masterclass, Quizlet, Newsela, Labster, Winnie, and Outschool.
While we’ll most definitely get into the billions at stake between the three, I’m most excited about how these three individuals have welcome and contrasting synergies at play. As we all play catch up, their intentional focus on the sector before it was hot will bring a fantastic level of depth that’s impossible to manufacture.
Mercedes Bent, for example, has worked in almost every startup role that exits out here: operations, customer service, talent and recruiting, product management, design, sales, marketing, strategy, and general management, according to Lightspeed. She spent the last eight years working in or around the career mobility space, including nearly five years at General Assembly. Bent tells me her love for education is the personal role it played in her life, from her grandparents to parents teaching the importance of invention and learning starting at an early age.
“Given the coronavirus’ effect on education, I’m spending more time here than normal. Prior to March, I spent about a third of my time in edtech, and now I am spending almost all my time here,” she tells TechCrunch.
Ian Chiu is the child of immigrant parents who came to the United States and pursued education degrees, a move he says has made the sector a focus early on for him.
His record shows the early commitment. Chiu was the lead author on a book about scholarships and rising college costs, published nearly two decades ago. Before joining Owl, Chiu worked at Bain & Company, Silver Lake Partners, and Warburg and Pincus.
“We find ourselves in a watershed moment for the $6 trillion education market as the rising digital penetration in the sector that had already been taking place has surged in these unprecedented times,” he said.
Finally, Jennifer Carolan will bring an on the ground perspective to the Extra Crunch stage. Carolan worked in Chicago’s public school for 7 years before going to Stanford and eventually breaking into venture.
“There is no doubt that schools will look different post-virus. This pandemic has made parents/guardians acutely aware of just how challenging and technical the role of the teacher is. It has also highlighted the custodial function of our schools — 92% of our nation’s 50 million school children attend our public schools,” she said.
Carolan’s notes shed light on a common balance within edtech: how to get venture-scale returns with companies that are creating solutions for all families, not just rich and privileged ones.
For the first time, TechCrunch’s big yearly event, Disrupt, is going fully virtual in 2020, allowing more people to attend and interact with speakers, investors and founders. And Disrupt will stretch over five days — September 14-18 — in order to make it easier for everyone to take in all the amazing programming. Prices increase soon, so get your pass now and then submit your pitch deck for invaluable feedback from our panel of VCs.