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Friday, September 28, 2007

eLearning Startups - New Wave Coming

I'm not sure if other people are seeing this, but based on a bunch of conversations and calls, it appears that there is a wave of new eLearning startups being created right now and the trend is accelerating. Because of my background doing startup software development with leading startups, e.g., eHarmony (see Matching Algorithm), MyShape, LoanToolbox, etc., my background in eLearning, and the fact that I'm a CTO-type person, I may get more of these kinds of calls, so I'm curious if other folks are seeing this as well.

What's interesting about the new wave is that most are targeting outside of traditional eLearning Solutions. Traditionally, we've seen start-ups that focus on authoring tools, virtual classroom, learning management, content, services. When you look back at 2000-2002, companies getting VC funding were folks like Outstart, Hyperwave, Infocast, Element K, Pathlore, Vuepoint, Knowledge Impact. Some of that is still happening with folks like Cornerstone getting $32M. But a lot of what you see today is consolidation among players in these areas.

Today the startups in eLearning sit in smaller niches or by attacking tangential opportunities in eLearning. They are going after things like:
  • specialized tools and content that meet particular industry or audience needs
  • games and simulations
  • web 2.0 approaches that leverage distributed content creation, social aspects as part of learning, collaborative learning and editing.
This is likely a natural outgrowth of the maturing of the industry. The larger players become focused on bigger and bigger opportunities. The bottom of established markets get eaten by lower-cost, e.g., open source players. And innovation comes from nimble start-ups who can attack smaller market opportunities. What's interesting though is how many of these "smaller" opportunities have the ability through network effects to grow very large.

One thing that was curious to me is that I can't find a good resource that shows what companies have received funding in our world? Where are the analysts? Is there a list somewhere? How could I find this out?


Ryan said...

I have not heard of a list of such sources, although I guess a list could be deduced by searching through job boards to see who is hiring a high number of folks with an e-learning background.

Like you, I have also seen similar ventures for refined products and niche e-learning solutions. Many of these approaches that I have seen involve firms that are extending services to an existing customer base by offering e-learning to coincide/enhance an existing product or service.

Although I have not seen many examples of such firms, I expect that there will soon be an increase in e-learning companies that create content that is designed to draw attention from specific markets to:
- Sell advertising (not courses nor course subscriptions)
- Feed online communities
- Create awareness and change consumer behavior

thcrawford said...

It's not huge, but the analysts at Signal Hill ( do a decent job of covering some of the market, especially the public firms. They have a periodic newsletter that sums up the news. They tend to focus on academia though instead of corporate, but there is some overlap.

IDC ( also covers it a bit, but not to the extent that traditional industry analysts do.

Tony Karrer said...

Thanks for the thoughts and pointers. I was hoping to see more of the interesting new companies - i.e., early stage. You sometimes see announcements on Mashable or TechCrunch. I also get really good info on funding announcements for local firms.

There must be announcements of funding events nationally right?

Stephen Downes said...

I receive a fabulous newsletter from Robert W. Baird Education Services.

Here's the October issue:

Stephen Downes said...

It clips the extension. Here it is:

(wow, that's *really* annoying)

full link?

RichWhite said...

Here is a relevant and interesting projects. It is a 3D direct manipulation virtual learning environment using Opensource Croquet and an Interactive white board. We call it Edusim. We hope to have kids interacting with the technology very soon.

The prototype videos are here:
Part 1:

Part 2:

The Edusim Project Page:

Best regards,

test said...

Thanks for asking the question. The shared info helps a lot. Interestingly, there are many niche opportunities that small start-ups can focus on ... and can compete with the large companies. Large companies are unable to bend quickly.

Anonymous said...

There are two sources of intelligence regarding VC activity.
Dow Jones' Venture one,,
and Venture Source

Amost all VC activity is captured and reported by them and the information is very accurate.

Being in the VC circles,I am not sure I agree that VCs investing in niche e-learning companies. From what I see they are looking at transformational business and technologies, newtorking, wireless etc...
In the VC circles, eLearning market is considered a small market.