Changing the World for Good in India: LEAD School

Mujtaba Wani
Apr 26 · 5 min read

India has a very unique set of tailwinds that catalyze the development of great EdTech entrepreneurs to build great EdTech companies:

  • A rapidly growing 1.4B population with 600M people under 25
  • A rising middle class with 9% annual GDP per capita growth
  • A culture that values education as a force of life mobility and consumers that spend on education regardless of socioeconomic background: $135B in total education spend (public and private spend across primary and supplemental education)
  • A higher ed system that graduates 1M engineers annually
  • A great entrepreneurial ecosystem supported by $10B in annual VC funding

This confluence of factors has spawned a class of EdTech unicorns such as BYJU’S and Unacademy, as well as a plethora of younger startups. India overtook the US in 2020 as the second largest recipient of EdTech venture and growth capital.

We are proud to announce that we are leading the Series D of LEAD School, an Indian EdTech startup that powers affordable private schools. Sumeet Mehta and Smita Deorah, the married co-founders of LEAD School, began the company in 2013 in an effort to support low-income students in rural areas. Today the LEAD School platform powers 2,000 schools and 800,000 students, having experienced a surge of activity in COVID when they were able to move online over a weekend.

Co-founders Sumeet and Smita spent most of their careers working for Proctor & Gamble in Singapore. In 2007, they moved back to Mumbai because they wanted to focus on their passion for education. Sumeet became CEO of Zee Learn, a leading K12 school franchise; Smita founded Sparsh, a non-profit delivering education solutions to students in rural areas. In 2013, they decided to launch their own affordable private schools. In 2017, they raised outside capital from Elevar Equity — leading global impact investors — and pivoted to a software offering for affordable schools in order to reach more students. Today LEAD is a SaaS platform powering affordable private schools across India.

GSV evaluates EdTech opportunities by using a 5Ps framework: People, Product, Potential, Predictability and Purpose. LEAD School impresses across all of these categories.

A Magnet for Talent

Nothing is more important than the people and we have been wildly impressed not only by the co-founders but by the executive team they have been able to recruit from top tier organizations. Sumeet and Smita were inspired to start LEAD School by the inequality faced by rural schools. They are mission driven and ambitious — they want their education solution to reach tens of millions of students. Moreover, each LEAD executive we have met is more extraordinary than the last. The company, its founders and its mission have become a talent magnet. Below are some of the impressive senior team members:

Product Designed for Impact

LEAD School provides an integrated, transformational school SaaS platform. It is a full-stack assessment, education and remediation platform. LEAD also provides a separate app for parents, which allows them to track their children’s progress and enables their students to learn from home.

“LEAD helps us assure parents that students are receiving a quality education. Parents love that they can see what their children do in school in real-time.”

– Sucheta Reddy, School Owner

“I am a brand ambassador for LEAD School. It is amazing and I have invited 53 other school owners to come see it at my rural school.”

– Basco Eraiyanbu, School Owner

GSV believes that it is critical for great EdTech companies to deliver a high Return on Education (“ROE”): lower cost, increased access, better learning outcomes and/or leverage for the learning leader. LEAD delivers on all four tenets of GSV’s ROE. LEAD’s aim is to provide excellent school education at affordable fee structures to students in small towns and villages. The students in schools that LEAD enters are on average two to three grade levels behind, their teachers are woefully undertrained, and the schools themselves are financially insecure. LEAD provides the scaffolding to close the gaps — it raises performance of students, teachers and schools. In improving student outcomes and teacher performance, this platform drives higher enrollment and financial stability for schools. LEAD engenders a virtuous cycle that benefits all its stakeholders. LEAD promises 70% student mastery by subject and grade level. Teachers want to be LEAD teachers because of how the solution makes them better. LEAD School is becoming the standard of quality for affordable, quality education.

For example, LEAD’s English program reduces the literacy gap in students by 1.8 years within one year of learning. Moreover, LEAD’s math program increases the share of a class at proficiency from 29% to 70% in just six months on average. In the pandemic, LEAD has been a lifesaver for its partner schools, as it enabled them to continue teaching remotely while school buildings were physically closed.

Potential to Benefit Millions

India has 475k affordable and low fee private schools, serving over 80M students. School fee spend in India is $20B and the school platform opportunity for LEAD is $10B. The market is expanding because of the consistent economic migration in India: families from free schools move to low fee schools, families from low fee move to affordable schools, and so on.

3x Growth in an Unpredictable Year

In the last year, LEAD has tripled the number of schools and students it serves, despite COVID. LEAD School uses a SaaS business model in which it charges schools a fixed fee per student per year. Adopting LEAD pays for itself: LEAD often replaces the need for a motley of alternative solutions such as an LMS, textbooks, and administrative software. Moreover, LEAD boosts school enrollments and improves their finances. LEAD School’s 100% net retention demonstrates its value proposition.

Transforming Rural Education

LEAD is rapidly becoming the gold standard for academic mastery as well as student, teacher and school success. Sumeet and Smita cut their teeth at P&G and they understand the value and importance of a high integrity brand. Their ambition for LEAD School to transform education in rural India epitomizes the fifth GSV “P” of Purpose. We believe that purpose driven companies will deliver the strongest outcomes.

GSV Ventures

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