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Tuesday, Dec 5, 2023

LA’s Thriving Edtech Startups Improve Remote Learning for Schools, Businesses

While the global pandemic has disrupted almost every industry, some businesses are experiencing accelerated growth during the crisis.

The education technology sector, which has a significant footprint in Los Angeles, is among the categories seeing sizable gains.

Buoyed by the need for digitized teaching tools and remote learning platforms, edtech startups in L.A. are taking advantage of their opportunities by offering online solutions to learners of all ages, from young children to working professionals.

Investors are also heeding the call. By the start of September, global edtech fundraising had already surpassed 2019 levels. The industry has attracted more than $4.8 billion so far this year, according to a report by CB Information Services Inc., a New York-based business analytics company.

L.A.’s vibrant tech scene makes the city an ideal location for an edtech company, according to Nick Farrell, co-founder and chief executive of Playa Vista-based Bites Media Inc., an edtech startup focused on increasing understanding of current events among middle school and high school students.

“Even outside of education technology specifically, you have most of the major tech companies (with offices) here,” Farrell said. There’s a great talent pool, as well as an ecosystem of startups on the edtech front, he added.

The city’s position at the heart of the world’s entertainment and media industries also helps because there’s easier access to production studios and talent, according to Jeff Miller, chief learning officer and vice president of organizational effectiveness at Cornerstone OnDemand Inc.

As Covid-19 escalates the need for edtech, it also raises the standards for e-learning content production, Miller explained. 

“Content has become shorter and more focused and engaging. The courses are not only more visually appealing, but the creativity in production quality, tone and focus has changed significantly,” Miller said.

In the future, there’s huge potential for virtual reality and artificial intelligence to be adopted into the edtech landscape, Miller added. “VR technology in edtech can eventually develop virtual humans that will be able to gauge emotions and provide lifelike learning scenarios,” he said.

From companies creating gamified learning apps to businesses developing digitized training courses for professionals, here’s a look at some of the leading local edtech companies.

Dailies Inc.

FOUNDER: Manuel Zamora
FINANCIALS: The company is mostly bootstrapped with a small pre-seed angel round.

Dailies has developed a mobile learning app with content catering to students from elementary through middle school. The user interface is similar to a mobile game, with scores and quest tasks, but the content consists mostly of quizzes rather than games. Students can log in, complete a set of quizzes, such as vocabulary tests, and earn points.

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Parents and family members can register an account associated with the learners’ account to track progress and identify gaps, according to founder Manuel Zamora.

In August, the company launched DailiesPods beta, an online platform for live project-based group classes designed for students from pre-K to 8th grade. The company is hiring to lead these classes.

“We believe that DailiesPods is a lot more compelling to people because now the parents … feel like their children are not getting enough time with other children and that they’re getting disconnected,” Zamora said.

DailiesPods is set to go live Sept. 28. 

Dailies is also marketing DailiesPods to large companies, which can offer the live sessions as a way to keep kids occupied while their parents work remotely. “We’re targeting (human resource departments) and saying, ‘Hey, this is very valuable — your employees get free hours to focus strictly on the work,’” Zamora said.

Other companies to know:

Age of Learning Inc.: The Glendale-based company is best known for its flagship product, ABCmouse.com Early Learning Academy, an online curriculum for children from 2 to 8 years old. The company said its product has reached more than 20 million children around the world.

Embodied Inc.: The Pasadena-based artificial intelligence and robotics company has created an animatronic companion named Moxie. The robot is programmed to deliver content organized by weekly themes that can be broken down into daily episodes. The goal is to teach children about concepts like emotions, relationships and friendship.

Encantos: The Culver City-based company makes digital and physical products, including online learning curriculum, books and toys for kids under 12 years old.

Attainment Holdco, doing business as InStride

CEO: Vivek Sharma
FINANCIALS: InStride is profitable already.

InStride matches businesses with academic institutions that offer education programs including bachelor’s and graduate degrees, high school diplomas, English-language learning, skill-building and training, as well as short-form credentials.
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The company offers a “heavily curated marketplace,” for corporations to find education programs for employees, according to co-founder and Chief Learner Officer Jonathan Lau.

“While there’s continued shift in the marketplace around the desire for shorter (training programs), the most impactful … and career-boosting education still remains a degree,” Lau said.
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The company offers a white-label platform that integrates with its corporate clients’ systems to provide information about the education programs, track employees’ application and degree completion process, and provide data insights on employees’ participation in the programs.

InStride negotiates agreements with corporate clients to help connect them to academic institutions. When an employee of a corporate client enrolls in courses offered by an academic partner, InStride receives an undisclosed percentage of the tuition.

The company has 11 academic institutions in its network. It has more than 30 corporate clients with nearly 26,000 learners who have enrolled in a program already, it said.

Other companies to know:

Cornerstone OnDemand Inc.: The Santa Monica-based talent management software developer was founded in 1999 with a focus on online learning for enterprise clients. Cornerstone’s portfolio of cloud-based products now spans the entire lifecycle of employment, from recruiting and onboarding to training, development and performance management. Clients in the education sector include Green Dot Public Schools, the New York City Department of Education, KIPP Houston Public Schools and Sylvan Learning Inc.

Jumpcut Inc.: The Hollywood-based online learning company was founded in 2014. It aims to create “binge-worthy, addictive” educational courses with a focus on entrepreneurship.

CreatorUp Inc.: The downtown-based digital media training company offers more than 400 online courses on topics including storytelling, production and marketing.

Bites Media Inc.

CEO: Nick Farrell
EMPLOYEES: 3 full time; about 22 freelancers

Bites Media has developed a “teacher portal” app that allows paid users, mostly parents and teachers, to distribute news-related multimedia content and quizzes to students, track pupils’ progress, understand multimedia consumption preferences and grade tests.
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The tool is designed to increase comprehension of news events, according to co-founder and Chief Executive Nick Farrell.

Users pay $3.99 per month or $40 per year. They receive three newsletters per week, one with general news tie-ins, and the other two with lesson plans pairing with articles on the Bites Media site.

“We saw a real opportunity to target this young generation … to focus on accessibility of these social and civic issues (and) build in these components of civic education and media literacy education that is really critical to our democracy,” Farrell said.

The company has built a multimedia content library for news events in four categories: law and politics, life and arts, science and technology, and sports and health. The articles are designed for the “bite-sized consumption habit” of middle schoolers and high schoolers, according to co-founder and Head of Education Emily David, who added that Bites Media works with 22 freelancers, mostly journalism students, to create the content.
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Every multimedia article in the library is written in the same outline format, including bullet notation for news facts, perspective analysis such as “pros and cons” and “cause and effect,” as well as a timeline update for the news event.

“Accessibility is not necessarily how you access the actual article. It’s the way in which you as a learner access the content and access the comprehension of that content. So that’s really what we’re leaning into,” David said.

Other companies to know:

TutorMe: The Century City-based online education platform connects with schools’ learning management systems. The company also offers service packages to directly to students. The cost depends on the number of students and tutoring hours requested.

Paper Education Co.: Formerly known as GradeSlam, Paper is a Montreal-based remote tutoring company with an office in Santa Monica. The company negotiates rates with school districts to deliver tutoring services to K-12 students. Southern California is the company's biggest market. 

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