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Who invests in who? Emerge, Owl Ventures and Learn

The next instalment in our series of articles exploring the investment ecosystem within international education focuses on early stage venture capital funds.

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Owl Ventures has backed many of the leading, high growth edtech firms in recent years

If you have a good idea, or a working prototype for a lucrative business innovation, then there are several investment funds who will be interested in what you have to say.

Structured around communities of individual entrepreneurs, investors and tech enthusiasts, early stage investment funds are looking for opportunities to support disruptors, enablers and UX developers to break through in exchange for equity.

Investment can range from a few thousand pounds into the multi-millions and can make a huge difference for a start-up transitioning to major adoption by the industry.

The opportunity for technology-based solutions to prosper is clear in a sector that is lagging behind in digital transformation.

Emerge Education

This London-based, early-stage investment fund is run by a team of entrepreneurs that include Jan Lynn-Matern, a serial investor in projects like FourthRev and the London Interdisciplinary School and Nic Newman, founder of TigerSpike and member of the Department for Education’s edtech advisory group. Mary Curnock Cook, the former CEO of UCAS is also a non-executive director.

It also works as an insight partner with Jisc, the UK’s digital, data and technology agency for tertiary education, research and innovation.

Emerge has backed well-known businesses in international recruitment including Unibuddy, the peer recruitment tool that connects existing students with prospective students; Enroly the admissions platform that automates visa and compliance processes for universities; and Aula the learning experience platform that was eventually acquired by Coventry University in the UK.

Owl Ventures

Headquartered in San Francisco, Owl Ventures is the largest venture capital firm in the world that focuses exclusively on education technology.

Its investment is backed by a wide range of partners including sovereign wealth funds, college endowments and private investors or family funds. It provides investment at all stages of business growth including early and seed funding.

Owl Ventures has backed many of the leading, high growth edtech firms in recent years that have secured multiple rounds of seed funding with multiple investors. The portfolio includes Degreed, Class, BenchPrep, Labster, Masterclass and Code Academy.

The venture capital firm has also been making headlines by investing US$10 million in the hottest new social media app Fizz that is sweeping across US college campuses. The community app allows enrolled students to discuss any topic, event or campus news anonymously, which is then regulated by their peers giving it a ‘karma’ score by upvoting or engaging with the content.

Investments familiar in international education include Leap which owns and operates GeeBee Education Consultants alongside student finance products and hybrid degrees. Having been early stage investors in Leap, Owl Ventures added to its Series B and C funding rounds with a larger series D funding round in 2022 that raised US$75 million.

Learn Capital

Learn Capital is another US-based venture capital fund based out of California. It focuses specifically on technology that is enabling access and innovation within education delivery.

The bigger picture in international education is beyond student mobility and full fee paying international students seeking a study abroad destination.

Population growth and shifting geopolitical power is creating new opportunities for innovative TNE, skills-based education and digital delivery to meet the global demand for education and the future world of work.

Learn has invested in some key enablers in this space including massive open online course providers such as Coursera and Udemy as well as Nexford University.

Learn was also part of a series A investment round in Podium Education, that raised US$12 million in 2020. Podium delivers tech-focused learning experiences for students with a specific, strategic focus on intercultural activity that mirrors the real life operations of modern multinational companies.

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