Launched in 2003, LinkedIn quickly became the first global professional social media network by offering an easy way to make and track professional connections. At roughly the same time, Y Combinator (YC) and other accelerators emerged as a largely analog means for entrepreneurs willing to commit three months of time and ~6% of their company to receive en masse training and connections to mentors, peers and funders.
While both LinkedIn and Y Combinator are still going strong, a new crop of companies are looking to fill the gap between these two approaches via structured online experiences that provide a combination of training and connections to help people achieve their professional goals.
The ease with which like-minded professionals can receive training, coaching and participate in communities, largely thanks to improving and scalable digital offers, is a key part of the unbundling we are seeing.
The emergence of these companies is part of a broader trend of the democratization of professional development, sparked in part by increasing awareness and recognition of the mismatch between what traditional education is delivering to young people and what’s demanded by employers. Indeed, the OECD estimated in 2019 that at least 80 million workers in Europe are mismatched in terms of their qualifications and what’s demanded in the workforce across a wide range of industries.
It’s positive, then, that the unbundling process is improving access to high-quality professional education and development. Lower prices, shorter courses and content more closely tied to professions all make it easier for people to retrain and upskill where necessary.
Gone are the days when the only way to get a fantastic business education, for example, is via a $50,000-$250,000 MBA, and where the only route to highly skilled professions is via a $20,000-$300,000 university course. Similarly, within this increasingly democratized system, access to coaching and mentoring at the individual and group levels is improving.
New approaches range from companies like The PowerMBA, which offers an MBA alternative for $800-$1,000, to On Deck, which offers professional development courses and communities for about $3,000, and Dorm, which sells mentorship support and networks to entrepreneurs for $150 per month.
What do these approaches have in common? They are typically digital, not accredited by traditional academic institutions, and are shorter, condensed, focused and tightly linked to careers and outcomes compared with traditional education courses. Many providers communicate and market themselves on the “exclusivity” and focus of their communities. Further, there will typically be some content associated with the courses — the amount will largely depend on the purposes of the course and offer (i.e., content is shared, but not the central offers of most accelerators, incubators and mentoring providers).
The main avenues of differentiation for this new wave of companies are price (depending on the amount of personalization available and the pricing model), duration (short, intensive, bootcamp-style or an annual recurring subscription), method of delivery (asynchronous and on-demand or synchronous and live), content focus (content-driven or focused on relationships and mentorship), degree of accreditation (degree of formality around certification and accreditation), and, of course, whether providers focus on specific roles or broad topics. It’s important to point out that most of these avenues are spectra along which providers can place themselves.
With this in mind, Brighteye Ventures created a market map of the range of organizations supporting individuals to further their professional learning, with a particular focus on business and entrepreneurship education. It doesn’t aim to be exhaustive but rather highlights the broad range of groups operating in the space. We have, for indicative purposes, included total funding (including IPO) for the companies in each of the categories where suitable and available (via PitchBook).