Female Founders Continue to Rock Edtech

582625_492779717416390_1479569530_n

Following a massive injection of cash into Coursera, female co-founded InstaEDU receives $4 million in funding.

By Jessica Schimm (Assistant Editor, Women 2.0)

With the American education system ripe for innovation, MOOCs and edtech have been generating big buzz, which has led to big investments for some female founders in the space. First, Coursera received a hefty $43 million in funding last month and now InstaEDU, a startup focused on providing students access to tutors and online lesson spaces, has closed $4 million in Series A funding, led by Battery Ventures.

The online tutoring platform was co-founded by Alison Johnston Rue in 2011 and is headquartered in San Francisco. Since launching in 2012, InstaEDU has added over 2,000 tutors and the average lesson length is close to an hour.

“We built InstaEDU to make it possible for anyone, anywhere, to receive academic support at exactly the right moment,” Johnston Rue, who is also InstaEDU’s CEO, told Women 2.0 in an email.

As the edtech space evolves, Jonston Rue explained, solutions will need to be found not only to deliver more content to more people but also to preserve the essential human-to-human element of education.

“For the past few years the discussion around online education has been dominated by the promise of MOOCs (Coursera, etc). In looking at some of the outcomes — an average of 10% completion rate in most courses, for example — it’s clear that edtech has to do more than scale just the academic content,” Johnston Rue said. “It also needs to figure out how to scale academic relationships, e.g. talks with a TA after class, study sessions in a library and late-night homework help from a dorm-mate.”

With such a pressing need for innovation and with education being a traditionally female-dominated field, Johnston Rue wouldn’t be surprised if more female founders gravitate toward the niche, expanding on the impressive work they’re already doing.

“There are some really amazing female founders in the education space. Daphne Koller at Coursera, Pooja Nath Sankar at Piazza, and Sue Khim at Brilliant are all doing fantastic things — and all in different areas of the edtech world. I don’t know what the ratio of female founders in edtech is compared to other tech sectors, but education is an area that has long been dominated by women (76% of public school teachers are female), so I wouldn’t be surprised if more female founders gravitate toward edtech.”

It’s not just women entrepreneurs that are interested in the potential of edtech both as a business proposition and a means to serve the larger good. “Most of my investments do not have altruistic purposes. However, I remember being stumped while studying at night as a student—and not being able to get help because my parents were either asleep or couldn’t remember the subject matter,” Brian O’Malley, general partner at Battery Ventures, commented. “InstaEDU’s ability to connect students in the moment of need to tutors from top universities is a true lifesaver and will hopefully save some of this generation the frustration I remember.”

The company plans to use the funding to serve more students and work on initiatives like a nonprofit tutoring program, mobile options and expanding our global reach, InstaEDU said in a release.

 

Jess headshotJessica Schimm (@JessicaSchimm) is the assistant editor at Women 2.0. She is a recent graduate of San Francisco State where she earned a B.A. in journalism and was the editor-in-chief of SF State’s Her Campus chapter. She has a strong interest in women’s issues and writes about them on her blog Women Who Run San Francisco.