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What we’re looking to fund: a new generation of ed tech for K-12 students

By: AileenLee & Jomayra Herrera

2020 was an unprecedented year for the education sector. Distance learning (or sadly in some cases, lack thereof) created an incredible opportunity for educators and entrepreneurs to rethink how to deliver instruction. It also highlighted many opportunities for improvement. At Cowboy Ventures, we’re excited about this new window for tech-driven companies to make all types of learning more effective, engaging, and accessible.

The pandemic has created new behaviors and insights that will change the game for the education sector in the future. And education is a huge market — globally, more than $7.5 trillion is spent on education. And the overall ed tech market is estimated to get as big as $404B by 2025.

We’ve been fortunate to work with a number of learning-focused companies including Guild Education, Hone, and enrich. In addition to helping deliver more engaging, tech-driven learning experiences for adults, we’re also enthusiastic about the opportunity to rethink how younger students learn. Below are a few trends we’re keeping an eye out for. If you’re building something in any of these spaces or education technology more broadly, please ping Aileen and Jomayra at aileen@cowboy.vc and jomayra@cowboy.vc. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Supplemental learning solutions for K-8 students

Given the chance, Aileen’s kids would not write very positive user reviews about Kumon, a brick and mortar chain founded over 60 years ago to provide students with after school reading and math support (“mom, there’s a reason why their logo is an unsmiling child!”). Kumon has over four million students enrolled (at a cost of $80–100/mo/student in the US) in nearly 25,000 franchised learning centers across 50 countries; Mathnasium and Sylvan also offer bricks and mortar learning centers in the US.

We’re interested in this model because many parents with resources leverage supplementary support to help their kids catch up or to get ahead. But, getting a child to a physical learning center takes time and resources. A tech-driven model could reach even more students, growing the market and delivering better cost-effectiveness.

We are excited to look for new education solutions that aim to deliver the best of the location-based model but in a live, online setting. We think some of the characteristics this solution will have might include:

  • A proprietary and effective curriculum that can extend throughout K-8
  • Social features that allow students to build relationships with instructors and with one another
  • The curriculum would include important social-emotional skills like collaboration and communication.
  • Gamification to make the learning fun and keep kids engaged and motivated
  • The programming could include a physical component to combine tactile learning with the online experience

We’ve been impressed by early entrants like Juni Learning, which offers online STEM and English classes for kids, and Reconstruction, which provides courses on math and reading through the lens of Black empowerment. We are excited to find and fund more!

Community-driven learning

After over a year of social isolation, we are more bullish than ever on the power and importance of community. In particular, children were hard hit as they could no longer see their friends at a time when socialization is so important for their development. In some cases, this has led to increased rates of anxiety and depression.

During COVID-19, Brainly, a community of students who ask and answer questions for one another, surged to over 200 million monthly active users, confirming the desire for increased community. Similarly, Quizlet, which helps students study for exams via flashcards, had over 50 million students across the world at the beginning of the pandemic. Students ask over 1 billion questions each week on the platform and over 400 million virtual studies have been created. And Roblox, the popular gaming platform for kids, reported having over 150 million monthly users spending an average of 2.6 hours a day on its platform. These success stories show the important role that community and support for students can play in learning move forward.

We’re interested in finding solutions that take the best of these platforms — community, gamification, and verified information — to help students get the social connection that they crave while also getting the learning support they need. We’ve been impressed by the progress that companies like Fiveable have made in this space, leveraging the power of community to help students prepare for AP exams, something that was historically limited only to students who attended schools that offered AP classes.

We believe there is a ton of opportunity to build a vibrant community of students that help one another in a safe and inclusive environment, supplemented with education that helps them learn.

Online learning 2.0 infrastructure

Learning is increasingly moving online but the infrastructure to support that learning is still nascent. Most educators are using zoom, which makes it difficult to leverage the best of in-person teaching practices while also missing out on the best of what technology can offer to enhance learning. Companies like Engageli and ClassEdu were both founded in 2020 with a focus on offering industry-specific features like the ability to deliver quizzes, work in small groups, and take attendance.

While a lot of K12 learning will hopefully go back to in-person learning this year, we suspect supplemental and enrichment learning will increasingly move online. It’s more convenient than having parents or caregivers have to drive kids from one place to another, and wait. This will be especially true if those online solutions are delivered through an experience that students love.

We’re excited to continue tracking and investing in companies building the new generation of online instruction and infrastructure to help instructors keep their students engaged and learning. These are just a few trends that we’ve noticed — there are likely many more solutions in K12 education we haven’t yet seen. If you’re building in this space, please reach out to us at aileen@cowboy.vc and jomayra@cowboy.vc!

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Cowboy Ventures

A seed-stage focused technology fund backing exceptional founders.