The flow of venture capital may be slowing down, but the K-12 education sector is continuing to see a brisk pace of investment, and a lot of mergers and acquisitions.
A newly released EdWeek Market Brief survey of K-12 education company officials finds that 30 percent of respondents say their organizations have either taken on venture capital or acquired another company in the last year. That level of activity is a sign of how much interest among investors remains in the sector, say those who follow the market.
“We’re seeing that M&A in ed-tech is very active,” said Jean Hammond, co-founder and board member at LearnLaunch. She sees deals playing out “up and down” the market, among companies of all sizes.
The survey, conducted in July 2022 by the EdWeek Research Center, asked 446 business officers at K-12 companies about their current fundraising and acquisition-related activities. It is featured in EdWeek Market Brief’s third annual State of the Industry report, which explores education companies’ finances, hiring, compensation, and recruitment strategies, among other activity.
The survey finds that 15 percent of respondents have acquired another company in the past year, and an additional 15 percent said they had taken on venture capital to fuel growth.
Seven percent of respondents said they were acquired by a private equity firm or another investment group in the past year. Four percent said they were acquired by another type of company.
Ian Chiu, managing director of Owl Ventures, said the survey results line up with what he is seeing in the market. The pandemic created far more need for, and interest in, the ed-tech products that drive much of the activity, he said.
“We continue to be very bullish about the long-term secular trends in K-12,” he said. “The last couple of years highlighted the importance of ed tech and brought it into the mainstream.”
As the pandemic fueled a need for remote learning, and ed-tech products drew the attention of new audiences, including parents, they attracted more broad-based generalist investors, adding more capital into the category, added Chiu.
Even as overall investment activity is now waning from its pandemic highs, private equity funds that have both a large K-12 player in their portfolios and capital to deploy are now able to acquire smaller companies at more modest valuations, which also drives activity in the K-12 side of the market, said Chiu.
“That’s a playbook I suspect you will see run quite frequently,” he said.
In August, the value of venture capital-backed funding rounds globally dropped by about 58 percent compared to the previous year, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. The overall number of transactions also declined by roughly 24 percent in the same time period, continuing a downward trend in the data.
Small-Scale Deals Are Common
The survey also dug into the amount of venture capital K-12 companies took on in the past year.
The largest portion of education companies, 27 percent, said they raised between $1 million and $5 million, and 17 percent said they raised less than $1 million. Seven percent raised no venture capital.
On the other side of the spectrum, 20 percent reported raising the highest level of funding, $50 million or more. A small portion, just 3 percent, raised between $26 million and $49 million, and 17 percent were in the $11 million to $25 million range.
The fact that relatively small-sized deals, valued at $1 million to $5 million, make up the bulk of venture capital investments over the past year could be tied to the plethora of small companies in the market, which are more likely to raise smaller rounds, said Hammond.
It’s clear the pandemic has spurred investors to explore the ed-tech space, she said. But much of the increased interest she’s seen in the market has largely been directed toward mature companies with proven products and established customer bases, Hammond said.
She’s seen funding for smaller companies shrink. Investors see less room for growth and believe districts are being overloaded with new products that are not likely to appeal to either school systems or parents, she said.
Investors “got a little skittish because they were watching existing companies they thought were going to grow faster” struggle, and venture capital backers realized “it was going to take little bit more time to get there.”
There is still plenty of investor appetite for transformative businesses in ed tech.Ian Chiu, Managing Editor, Owl Ventures
Despite the smaller checks being seen in the market overall, Chiu, of Owl Ventures, sees room for startups and more established companies in the ed-tech space to grow. Owl raised $1 billion in January, he said, which they’re actively looking to invest in promising ed-tech organizations.
“It’s a very, very compelling time to be an entrepreneur in this category,” he said. “A founder with a vision and experience to address large opportunities in education will have access to plenty of talent in this market … There is still plenty of investor appetite for transformative businesses in ed tech.”
EdWeek Market Brief’s report also found that larger education companies are more likely to be the target of acquisitions than are smaller ones.
Among survey respondents from education companies that reported $100 million or more in revenue, 42 percent had acquired another company and 19 percent had been acquired by a private equity firm or another investment entity.
But among those from education companies with revenues of between $20-$99 million, just 15 percent said they had acquired another organization, and 6 percent said they had been scooped up.
And of education companies with $5-$19 million in revenue, just 7 percent said they had made an acquisition, and 5 percent said they had been acquired.
Hammond said many private equity firms are pursuing larger companies in an effort to create one organization in the market that can meet a large share of a district’s needs.
“[Investors] want to get products that can really move the needle on their solution set,” she said.
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