How Will A Billion Dollars Change Education?

The world’s largest VC firm focused on education technology wants to know.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

With experience scaling several education start-ups, Amit A. Patel is deeply committed to building new organizations that will create sustainable and higher quality education solutions. And now more than ever, he is poised to do just that: the firm of which he is an integral part is now the largest in the world centered on edtech. Before joining Owl Ventures where he is Managing Director, Amit founded Personal Academic Trainers, an afterschool tutoring company, and created the quality assurance program and institutionalized sales training for Mathnasium Learning Centers, an after-school math learning center franchise with 1,000+ locations in North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He also served as the Director of Technology for Success Academy Charter Schools, a premier charter school network in New York City with 45 schools.

The close of this fundraise takes Owl Ventures to over $1.2 billion in assets under management and further scales Owl Ventures as the largest VC firm in the world focused on education technology.’ 

Amit sits on the National Board for uAspire, a nonprofit organization ensuring that all young people have the financial information and resources necessary to find an affordable path to and through college.

He received a B.A. in Mathematical Economic Analysis from Rice University and studied theatre/film at The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts and New York University. Amit was an Education Pioneers Graduate School Fellow, a Pahara-NextGen Fellow, and he earned a M.B.A./M.A. in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Graduate School of Education.

“My passion for education comes from my parents who immigrated to the United States and the impact that education had on their trajectory and subsequently my sister’s and my life,” he shares. “As a result, I have been in the education sector my entire career, and I am deeply committed to scaling new organizations that will create sustainable and high quality education solutions for as many learners as possible.”

This interview follows the recent announcement of a massive new influx of funding into the edtech sector. Here’s a closer look at this—and its implications—from Amit’s view.

As one of, if not the largest venture capital funds in edtech, you’ve very recently made a big announcement. How will this shape the field and the future of education?

Amit: We are excited to announce that we have closed $585 million across two new funds: 1) $415 million Owl Fund IV and 2) $170 million Opportunity Fund I.  The close of this fundraise takes Owl Ventures to over $1.2 billion in assets under management and further scales Owl Ventures as the largest VC firm in the world focused on education technology.  The new funds will help fuel our strategy of making early, growth and later stage investments in the world’s leading education technology companies across the spectrum, including PreK-12, higher education and future of work (career mobility/professional learning).

What are some investment highlights—any particular companies you work with that are doing exemplary things?

Since our founding in 2014, we have been a major investor in many of the fastest growing companies in the global edtech market, including U.S. companies Accelerate Learning (acquired by Carlyle Group), Degreed, DreamBox Learning (acquired by TPG Rise), Hazel Health, MasterClass, Newsela, Noodle Partners, Quizlet, Remind and international companies such as BYJU’s, Labster, Lele Ketang, Sanjieke and WhiteHat Jr. (acquired by BYJU’s).  A recent highlight of our global investment strategy involved two of our portfolio companies in India.  BYJU’s, the most valuable privately held edtech company in the world, acquired 18 month old start-up WhiteHat Jr for $300 million, and we were the only investor in both companies.  The meteoric growth of both Whitehat Jr and BYJU’s is illustrative of the rapidly growing and maturing edtech market in India and throughout the world.

What are your thoughts on the current state of education?

At approximately $6 trillion, the education market is the second largest sector in the world and experiencing a significant surge in digital penetration. As access to the Internet and connected devices is continuing to increase, learners and teachers from around the world can now leverage innovative edtech solutions. Additionally, rapid changes in the global economy have led enterprises and adult learners to seek digital tools for upskilling and reskilling, which has created a multitude of opportunities for innovative companies in the career mobility and professional learning sectors. 

What criteria does Owl use in deciding to work with a particular interest? Has this criteria / rubric changed over the past couple years?

There are three primary areas that we have always looked at when considering an investment:

1) product-market fit

2) team

3) impact on educators and learners. 

We seek to partner with visionary entrepreneurs who are tackling large problems in education as well as training and help them build transformative category leading companies. We take a hands-on approach to help our portfolio companies across numerous functions including distribution, partnerships, talent, fundraising and outcomes measurement.

‘We seek to partner with visionary entrepreneurs who are tackling large problems in education as well as training and help them build transformative category leading companies.’

What advice do you have for a startup seeking to work with you? Any words of wisdom, pointers, thoughts about what might make them a good fit?

We are eager to meet with you and learn more about your company.  We believe that the best education technology companies can be created anywhere in the world, and we are excited to understand the unique offering that you and your team are creating.  In particular, it is helpful to understand what are your sustainable competitive advantages, what is giving you confidence in being able to achieve your short to medium term plans, and what is your long term vision for the company.

What does the short-term, let’s say ‘2-year’ — future of education look like?

The next 12–24 months for education have certainly been impacted by COVID-19. There are a significant number of K-12 schools and universities moving to online only or a blended learning environment for the 2020–2021 academic year and many companies have shifted to a remote working arrangement. This has had significant ripple effects throughout the education sector and forced many individuals as well as institutions to completely rethink their day to day processes and accelerate the adoption of education technology solutions. 

‘This has had significant ripple effects throughout the education sector and forced many individuals as well as institutions to completely rethink their day to day processes and accelerate the adoption of education technology solutions.’ 

Thank you for sharing, Amit. And lastly: Down the road 4-5 years—what trends are you keeping a close eye on, ones that you see either expanding, or those that are coming into focus?

Direct-to-consumer education solutions are going to become much more prevalent.  We have already seen many significantly scaled direct to consumer education technology companies being created in Asia, and we are starting to see that happen in other parts of the world as well, including the U.S. market.  As lifelong learning becomes more prevalent, this trend is just going to become more amplified, especially given the rapid pace of change happening in our digital economy.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]

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