Ready or not, edtech has been shoved into the spotlight as millions of students shifted to remote learning due to pandemic-related school shutdowns.
But backing these companies are investors who have long believed that edtech was always set up for great returns and a big impact. We reached out to several to find out about which trends they’ve been willing to put their money behind. (And frankly, what we’ve been missing.)
We got into how tech can help — or hurt — underserved students struggling to find Wi-Fi or a laptop and how braintech still is ripe for innovation. Investors also shared the parts of edtech that Zoom video conferencing doesn’t address and why gamifying learning is so important.
Here’s who we talked to:
- Jenny Lee, GGV
- Tetyana Astashkina, LearnLaunch
- Jean Hammond, LearnLaunch
- Marlon Nichols, MaC Venture Capital
- Mercedes Bent, Lightspeed Venture Partners
- Jennifer Carolan, Reach Capital
- Shauntel Garvey, Reach Capital
- Jan Lynn-Matern, Emerge Education
- Lesa Mitchell, Techstars
- Tory Patterson, Owl Ventures
- Ian Chiu, Owl Ventures
- Tony Wang, 500 Startups
Next week, we’ll publish the other findings we received from these investors, focusing on edtech in a post-COVID-19 world. [Update, here it is: Venture capitalists chat edtech’s new normal after COVID-19.]
Responses below have been edited for length and clarity.
Jenny Lee, GGV
What trends are you most excited about in edtech from an investing perspective?
GGV Capital is focused on how technology is allowing startups to innovate and create new business models to (1) lower the reliance on physical locations and (2) to allow for teachers to teach online with multi-format (1:1, 1:n) virtual classrooms [and] (3) deliver highly interactive and personalized content via use of virtual characters, machine learning, natural language and voice recognition/processing. Edtech can be broken down into the process of (a) learning (reading, speaking, comprehension), (b) practicing, and (c) testing, and targets different age groups from 0-3 years old, 3-6 years, K-12 years and into exam prep and adult training. Over the last four to five years, we have invested in over 10 companies in the areas of language learning, test prep, holistic learnings (like logical thinking, programming etc) and K-12 homework assistant.
How much time are you spending on edtech right now? Is the market under-heated, over-heated or just right?
It’s a key investment sector for me, so I spend about 20-30% of my time with edtech startups. Over the last few years, it has been a steady sector, not over-heated, but the COVID-19 situation has thrown a bright spotlight on it as a sector benefiting from more stay-at-home children and parents anxious to keep them busy, learning and engaged. I expect the sector to heat up quite a bit as we have seen our portfolio companies attract a lot of new users, new revenue and new interested investors over the last several months as much of the world manages lock-down mode. We expect this trend to continue for our US-based and Asia-based edtech startups as well.