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The Most Promising EdTech & Online Learning Startups in 2021

Education is a $6 trillion industry projected to increase to historic levels and reach $10 trillion by 2030. However, the education sector is starved of capital compared to other sectors, especially when it comes to digitalization. This fact was highlighted as Covid-19 forced many education providers and students online across the globe in 2020.

Fortunately, education providers are expected to adjust their behavior and increase spending on digitalization. At the same time, the edtech industry is becoming one of the most active sectors for investors.

In light of this trend and in response to Covif-19 some startups and companies, such as BYJU and Vedantu, which saw a spike in user growth have leveraged that momentum to raise more money.

Read below to learn about the most promising TechEd and online learning startups of 2021.

Note: The methodology for compiling this list was determined based on each individual company’s funding or valuation, venture or growth-stage status, and plans or ability to scale for accelerated growth.

BetterUp

BetterUp is a technology company that provides one-on-one coaching for professionals. It uses evidence-based assessments and machine learning to match professionals with coaches. Its client lists include Fortune 500 and enterprise companies, such as Airbnb, Linkedin, Logitech, among others. The platform was designed using evidence-based practices for the development and growth of employee leadership and confidence.

BetterUp was founded in 2013 by Alexi Robichaux but launched in 2016 in San Francisco. The platform offers various tools and services for career coaching, including real-time mentorship and skill-building through virtual sessions where users can work one-on-one with a licensed therapist or career coach. Users can receive coaching through phone, video, or live-chat sessions.

Employers providing the BetterUp platform to employees can track employee progress in leadership efficacy, productivity, and happiness. Over five funding rounds, BetterUp has raised a total funding amount of $269.8 million. The startup completed its most recent Series D funding round in February 2021, funded by seven investors including Salesforce Ventures, Threshold, and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Board Infinity

This edtech startup’s user base increased 400 percent in FY20 (fiscal year 2020), and recorded the highest growth in terms of monthly revenue during the lockdown months of April and May, seeing a 30 percent jump in revenue as compared to March numbers.

Founded in 2017 by CEO Sumesh Nair and COO Abhay Gupta, Board Infinity is a full-stack, higher education learning platform aimed at offering programs, certifications, coaching, and courses to students and job-seekers. The company is based in Mumbai, India, but also has a strong presence in the country’s Noida, Gurugram, and Bengaluru.

Over the next several years, the company hopes to expand further across other major cities in India. The company currently has a total funding amount of over $2.9 million. Investors in the company include Ambarish Raghuvanshi, Ex-CFO of InfoEdge, and Maheshwer Peri, Founder of Careers360.

BYJU’S

BYJU’S is an Indian educational technology company and online tutoring firm that develops personalized learning programs for K-12 students. The company offers both app and online digital education access points for students.

The Bangalore-based startup was founded in 2011 by current CEO Byju Ravendran and Divya Gokulnath. Considered a Unicorn in the tech world, BYJU’S has raised a total of $2.1 billion in funding over 17 rounds. The company continues to seek funding as its usage skyrockets following the pandemic. Its latest funding was raised on Sep 8, 2020 from a Private Equity round.

CampusLogic

CampusLogic provides a self-service platform aimed at helping college officials and students manage financial aid tools and resources, such as scholarships, loans, and other support systems. The startup provides a cloud-based platform that works with college student information systems to make student verification online on the cloud. Students can fill forms online and verify through e-signature allows for automated student-institution communication via the platform.

The startup is a Chandler, Arizona-based company founded in 2011 by Gregg Scoresby. The company has a total funding amount of $192.8 million acquired over five funding rounds, with its most recent private equity round raised in July 2020.

Cluey

Cluey Learning is an online platform offering one-on-one tutoring and tutoring programs for students ranging from elementary to high school levels. The Sydney-based company was founded in 2017 by CPO and Founder Michael Allara.

The startup currently has funding of over $14.8 million. Cluey’s two investors include Thorney Investment and Allectus Capital. More recently, Cluey Learning made its debut on the Australian Stock Exchange on Dec. 9, 2020. The company intends to use its release on the stock market to fund its growth strategy moving forward. Growth plans include increasing student enrollments and developing product, channel, market growth opportunities and potential strategic acquisitions.

Degreed

Degreed is a U.S.-based online platform providing skill learning and tracking capabilities to businesses and users through streamlined programs, so organizations and learners can more easily navigate career development progress and options. It tracks, measures, and validates all types of learning, such as degrees, conferences, online courses (Coursera, edX, Udemy), work experiences, and magazine subscriptions, and creates one score, similar to a credit score. It also provides a library platform to learn within the platform. The platform highlights the student’s active skills and provides services at both individual and organizational levels.

Originally launched in March 2012 by David Blake, David Wiley, and Eric Sharp, the company launched an early Beta to 20,000 users who joined as ‘Founding Scholars’ to the platform in November 2012. In January 2013, following a crowdfunded launch, Degreed launched to the public. In the fall of 2014, the company launched the Degreed for Enterprise platform.

Since its launch, Degreed has raised a total funding amount of $390.3 million over 15 funding rounds. It also acquired three other U.S. and European technology education companies between 2016 and 2019.

Duolingo

Duolingo is an American startup that offers learners a gamified language learning website and mobile application. The courses are offered for languages like Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Turkish, Dutch, Irish, Danish, Swedish, Ukrainian, Esperanto, Polish, Greek, Hungarian, Norwegian, Hebrew, Welsh, and English.

Duolingo offers features such as a gamified interface, learning solutions for schools, personalized learning experience, reward-based system. It works on a freemium revenue model and its apps can be downloaded on the IOS and the Android platform.

The startup project was initiated at the end of 2009 in Pittsburgh by Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis von Ahn and his postgraduate student Severin Hacker. The project was originally sponsored by Luis von Ahn’s MacArthur fellowship and a National Science Foundation grant. The founders considered creating Duolingo as a nonprofit organization, but Von Ahn judged this model as unsustainable.

Since its launch as a startup, Duolingo has raised $183.3 million over nine funding rounds. Major investors include Tim Ferriss, General Atlantic, Capital G, Drive Capital, and New Enterprise Associates. As of June 2021, the language-learning website and app offer 106 different language courses in 38 languages. The app has over 300 million registered users across the world.

Great Learning

Great Learning is an Indian online and blended learning platform designed to empower working professionals. The startup offers career-relevant programs from global universities to support in-demand job skills, such as data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and cloud computing.

Great Learning is based in Gurugram, India, and was founded in 2015 by Mohan Lakhamraju, the former India head of Tiger Global. The company shared in June 2020 that its annual revenue had increased 150 percent year-over-year to over $3.9 million.

Over the past year (and especially following the lockdown), the company reports that there has been an increased demand by professionals to upskill their digital competencies, which bodes well for the company. More recently the company collaborated with the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad to launch a blended learning post-graduate certificate program in software engineering for data science.

Kano

Kano provides a system of kits and a coding platform that enables users to develop apps, games, and music. Kano’s program is best suited for kids ages 6-14 and teaches kids Python to attain computer programming skills.

The London-based start-up was founded in 2013 by CEO Alex Klein, Saul Klein, and Yonatan Raz-Friedman. Kano has raised a total of $45.5 million in funding over nine rounds, with their latest funding taking place in July 2020 from a Corporate Round. The company hosts 18 investors, with the most recent investors being Microsoft and Sesame Ventures.

Knowbox

Knowbox is a Chinese education mobile app startup focused on helping K-12 students and teachers manage their homework. The Beijing-based company was founded in 2014 by CEO Liu Ye and CMO Jia Xiaoming.

The startup is considered a Unicorn and has raised a total funding amount of $305.8 million over six rounds. The latest funding round was a Series D, which took place in 2019. The startup currently has ten investors, with the most recent investors in the company including C Ventures and Alibaba Group.

MasterClass

MasterClass is a digital educational platform that provides online courses delivered by celebrity experts. The startup was originally founded under the name “Yanka Industries” in 2014 by David Rogier while he was a student at Stanford University. Rogier, who continues to serve as CEO, asked Aaron Rasmussen to join the company as co-founder and chief technology officer, though Rasmussen would also serve as creative director before leaving in 2017.

The company launched its website under its current name MasterClass in 2015 with three instructors and twelve classes added over the course of that year. By late 2018, MasterClass had about 50 classes and 1,000 lessons. Support for mobile devices was first added in April 2018.

In its current form, MasterClass’s instructors are all well-known recognized experts in their respective fields and offer courses in cooking, writing, acting, singing, photography, etc. The platform offers video content, course workbooks, interactive assignments, and community activities.

MasterClass was started with $4.5 million in initial funding and two seed-funding rounds totaling $1.9 million. This was followed by $15 million in funding announced in 2016, $35 million in 2017, and $80 million in 2018. In May 2020, MasterClass raised $100 million in a Series E funding round led by Fidelity Investments. And in May 2021, the company received $225 million in a Series F round, giving it a $2.75 billion valuation.

Currently, it has a subscription-based revenue model and it is accessible through mobile and the web. MasterClass’s mobile app is available for Android and iOS devices.

Ruangguru

Indonesian edtech startup Ruangguru is an online tutoring and test-prep platform aimed at helping students improve in academia and test-taking. Based in Jakarta, the company was started in 2013 by CEO Adama Belva Syah Devara and Chief of Product and Partnership Muhamad Iman Usman.

Thus far, Ruangguru has raised a total of $150.1 million in funding over eight rounds. This soon-to-be Unicorn closed its latest funding at the end of 2019 through a Series C round led by General Atlantic. Ruangguru is funded by eight investors, with the latest investors being EV Growth and GGV Capital.

Since lockdown, Ruangguru has been recognized as one of the largest learning apps in Southeast Asia, and in March announced a partnership with Indonesian telecommunications company Telkomsel to support access to education that would otherwise be inhibited by pandemic closures.

Udacity

Udacity is a MOOC platform that offers open online courses mainly focusing on professional development with training in front-end web, full-stack web, and iOS development.

The company was founded in 2011 by Sebastian Thrun, David Stavens, and Mike Sokolsky as an outgrowth of free computer science classes offered in 2011 through Stanford University. While it originally focused on offering university-style courses, it now focuses more on vocational courses for professionals.

Udacity was announced at the 2012 Digital Life Design conference and over the next few years, the development of the startup took off through a series of partnerships with major academic institutions and tech firms.

In 2014, the Georgia Institute of Technology launched the first “massive online open degree” in computer science by partnering with Udacity and AT&T. In October 2017, Udacity along with Unity, launched ‘Learn ARKit’ program which could help developers improve their AR application building skills. In the same month, Google partnered with Udacity to launch a new scholarship initiative for aspiring Web and Android application developers.

Udacity is now valued at over $1 billion having raised $235 million from noted investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Drive Capital, and Alphabet’s VC arm, GV.

The platform currently offers its solutions for individuals, enterprises, and governments. Its students are assigned homework that follows a learning-by-doing-model. Its ‘Nano-Degree’ programs are developed in collaboration with Google, Nvidia, Microsoft, Autodesk, Cadence Design Systems, and Wolfram Research. It works on a freemium model.

Udemy

Udemy is an American massive open online course (MOOC) provider that offers a marketplace for online courses that offers courses in various disciplines aimed at professional adults and students.

The company was founded in May 2010 by Eren Bali, Gagan Biyani, and Oktay Caglar. The MOOC is available online and through Android, iPad, and iPhone apps, with courses that can be taken at any pace and the course content can be created by instructors according to the instructor’s choice. It offers ‘Udemy for Business,’ a corporate online learning platform, that provides training solutions to corporations.

As of June 2021, the platform has more than 40 million students, 155,000 courses, and 70,000 instructors teaching courses in over 65 languages. There have been over 480 million course enrollments. Students and instructors come from 180+ countries and two-thirds of the students are located outside of the U.S.

Students take courses largely as a means of improving job-related skills. Some courses generate credit toward technical certification. Udemy has made a special effort to attract corporate trainers seeking to create coursework for employees of their company. The headquarters of Udemy is located in San Francisco, USA, with offices in Denver, USA; Dublin, Ireland; Ankara, Turkey; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Gurugram, India.

Over 14 funding rounds, the company has raised a total of $296.5 million, with its latest funding received in December 2020.

Unacademy

Indian startup Unacademy is an online learning platform that offers educational content for students, such as live daily classes, video lectures, mock tests, and lecture notes. The Bangalore-based Unicorn was co-founded by CEO Gaurav Munjal, CTO Hemesh Singh, Roman Saini, and Sachin Gupta.

Unacademy has raised a total of $348.5 million in funding over nine rounds. Unacademy is funded by 35 investors, with Dragoneer Investment Group and Tiger Global Management being its most recent. The startup secured its latest funding from Tiger Global on Nov. 25, 2020, and is now valued at $2 billion, up from around $500M earlier the same year in February.

Vedantu

Indian startup Vedantu is an online e-learning platform that offers students classes, tutoring and personalized learning content in real-time. The Bangalore-based company was co-founded in 2011 by CEO Vamsi Krishna, Product Head Pulkit Jain, Saurabh Saxena, and Anand Prakash.

Vedantu has secured a total of $190.9 million in funding over nine rounds. As schools closed in spring 2020, the startup welcomed an additional two million student users to its average 25 million monthly users. As a result, the startup raised its latest funding of $100 million on Jul. 15, 2020 from a Series D round, bringing the company’s valuation up to $600M. Clearly, the group is leveraging this momentum as its latest investment comes on the heels of its closing on $24 million through a Series C round just five months prior, in February 2020.

VIPKid

VIPKid is a Chinese edtech platform that connects teachers in North America with children around the world for real-time English immersion learning online. The platform can be accessed either via an app or online, through a wide variety of tablets, phones, laptops, and computers.

The Beijing-based Unicorn was founded in 2013 by co-founders Jessie Chen, Victor Zhang, and the company’s current CEO, Cindy Mi. VIPKid has raised a total of $1.1 billion in funding over ten rounds. Its latest funding was raised on Sep 19, 2019 from a Series E round. VIPKid has also made investments in another company, NewSchool Insight Media on Oct 18, 2018 for a Seed Round valued at $2.9 million.

More recently, the company’s new Dami Online School brand secured $80 million through a Series A financing round in January 2020 led by Tencent Investment, Sequoia Capital China, and Hammer Capital. The Dami Online School is modeled off of online classrooms and will provide live-streaming courses on English and mathematics to primary school and older students.

Yuanfudao

Focused on K-12 tutoring, Chinese startup Yuanfudao has developed a wide range of apps aimed at providing students with live tutoring and homework support.

The Beijing-based company was started by Co-Founders Shuai Ke, Xin Li, and Yong Li in 2012. Yuanfudao has raised a total of $3.8 billion in funding over ten rounds. The company closed its latest funding on Oct 20, 2020 from a Series G round, where it raised $2.2 billion. The new investment increases the startup’s valuation to $15.5 billion, making it the most valuable technology-driven education unicorn worldwide.

Seventeen investors fund the company, with Temasek Holdings and DCP Capital being the latest to join the group’s investor pool. Yuanfudao intends to leverage the new funding to further capitalize on its edtech development, accelerate new curriculum product development and expand its online education service system.

Chelsea Toczauer

Chelsea Toczauer is a journalist with experience managing publications at several global universities and companies related to higher education, logistics, and trade. She holds two BAs in international relations and asian languages and cultures from the University of Southern California, as well as a double accredited US-Chinese MA in international studies from the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University joint degree program. Toczauer speaks Mandarin and Russian.