Welcoming Andela to the Spark Capital crew

By Alex Finkelstein and John Melas-Kyriazi

At Spark, we see online content and communities transforming the way students learn all over the world, and we’ve invested in a number of companies in the edtech space, including StackExchange, Skillshare, and Socratic.

However, we’ve also seen a consistent challenge: high-quality online learning programs that include a face-to-face human interaction — whether in-person or virtual — are unaffordable for most people in developing countries. The time of good teachers is expensive. Because of this challenge, students living in the developing world who want to learn high value skills online but lack the resources are an untapped force in the global economy. Bridging this talent and learning gap is no simple feat, but it presents an enormous opportunity.

The Andela team is uniquely qualified to solve this problem in Africa. The founding team has deep expertise in edtech (Jeremy co-founded 2U), educational programming (Christina was a senior director at the Clinton Global Initiative and the MasterCard Foundation), and doing business in Africa (E and Ian previously co-founded a startup together in Lagos). We are thrilled to announce our partnership with Andela and to tell you more about the company.

At a high level, Andela allows the smartest African technical students to subsidize their education with their own brain-power and drive. Andela’s strategy is to train the smartest and most motivated students in Africa to become top-notch computer scientists, while building a talent marketplace to connect these fellows to global employers where they work remotely. Software developers stay with Andela for a total of four years — the program is a full apprenticeship in computer science, complete with in-person ongoing skill development from experienced trainers, remote mentorship from software engineers at tech companies overseas, management training, and deep specialization in various technology stacks. Andela’s flagship campus in Lagos, Nigeria, is now the most competitive educational institution in Africa with an acceptance rate below 1%.

Andela makes money when employers pay for their talented developers’ time; in turn, Andela pays an excellent income to its developers, even while they are learning full-time for the first 4–6 months and aren’t working with a client. It’s both a beautiful business model and a life-changing educational program and career opportunity for the fellows. When we visited the company in Lagos as part of our diligence, we met many developers who had excelled academically and dreamed of becoming computer scientists, but never had the opportunity to find proper training and work. Because of Andela, now they can.

After getting to know the team over several months and spending time with many Andela developers in Lagos, Spark is leading a Series A round of financing to accelerate the company’s growth beyond Lagos to Nairobi and cities all over the African continent. The company’s goal is to train 100,000 fellows over the next ten years, and we’re excited to work with the Andela team to realize this audacious vision. We also look forward to joining a strong investor syndicate, including Omidyar Network, LearnCapital, Founder Collective, Steve Case, Sheel Tyle, and Hakeem Belo-Osagie.

Andela is Spark’s first investment focused on the African continent, and likely not our last. The next investment we make in Africa may very well be a new business venture from a newly graduated Andela developer.