The most successful ed-tech companies over the past year punched into untapped markets, hail chiefly from North America, and collectively grew on a scale never seen before.
Those were some of the attributes of the businesses that make up the GSV EdTech 150, a list compiled by the prominent investment firm that is meant to capture the world’s “most transformational growth companies in digital learning.”
The list tripled in size compared with last year’s roster – known as the Global Edtech 50. An unprecedented boom year in the ed-tech sector fueled the expansion of the list, GSV researchers stated in a recent blog post.
The number of ed-tech unicorns, with valuations of more than $1 billion, multiplied by a factor of more than 50 percent during the last year, increasing from 30 to 46 companies, and there are now three decacorns – companies valued higher than $10 billion – in the industry.
More ed-tech companies have grown faster in 2020 and 2021 than previous years, largely because of the acceleration of digital learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, Luben Pampoulov, a co-founder of GSV and one of the analysts who compiled the list, told EdWeek Market Brief in an interview.
Some bigger ed-tech companies that were previously growing at an annual rate of between 50 percent and 100 percent saw their businesses expand at a rate of three, five, and 10 times after COVID-19 struck, as investors worldwide poured $13.3 billion into ed tech in 2020. That’s a 171-percent increase over the year prior, according to GSV.
“K-12 companies are realizing that even selling into districts is actually happening at a faster [rate] than we ever have seen, with districts flush with cash,” Kevin Zhang, a GSV investor who helped compose the Edtech 150, told EdWeek Market Brief in an interview.
Since the pandemic hammered the U.S. economy in March 2020, Congress has passed three blockbuster stimulus measures, which injected a total of $189.5 billion into U.S. K-12 systems, and gave schools significant financial breathing room and considerable flexibility in how they spend those funds.
Stimulus Could Drive Growth
Driven partly by the recent stimulus measures, increased revenues have supplied many ed-tech companies with resources to serve new user bases.
For instance, companies that started in the higher-ed space in many cases have expanded into K-12 and/or lifelong learning, Pampoulov said.
He cited a couple examples of businesses that have recently jumped into new markets, noting that Course Hero was originally focused only on higher ed, but has since expanded into K-12, and Byju’s was once focused solely on K-12, but is now also covering early childhood.
Course Hero offers course-specific study resources contributed by a community of students and educators. Byju’s is an India-based provider of mobile learning apps which has seen its valuation soar in recent years.
More ed-tech companies on the list were from North America than any other region, with 48 percent of listed firms based on the continent. Chinese businesses composed about one-fifth of the list, and Indian companies made up about one-tenth of the Edtech 150.
By and large, North America has been home to a greater number of ed-tech companies over a longer period of time compared with other regions, Pampoulov said. Because of this, North American firms were generally better positioned than businesses from other regions to meet the list’s requirement for at least $10 million in revenue generation, Pampoulov said.
Additionally, North American companies are generally better at global expansion, buoyed by well-established pools of financial resources in areas like Silicon Valley. They’re also helped by the relatively widespread use of English in other countries, and by a diverse base of ownership across different companies, Zhang said.
Immigrants lead many American companies, “which gives them unique human capital advantages,” he said.
Indian companies, which are prominently featured on the list, also benefit from the prevalent usage of English in many countries, Zhang said. But Chinese companies, which have also experienced a recent growth surge, more frequently butt up against communication barriers, he said.
“In China, I don’t think there’s a need” to expand much internationally, Zhang said. “China’s going to become very, very, very large. We’re talking $100-billion companies without [having to sell] beyond those borders.”
About 1.4 billion people live in China, the world’s most populous country.
GSV officials chose the businesses on the list after working from an original group of 2,000 venture capital- and private equity-backed companies.
Analysts evaluated companies in terms of revenue scale and growth, user reach, geographic spread, gross profit margin, and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — or EBITDA – a common measure of profitability in the financial community.
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