Workera.ai, a precision upskilling platform, taps $16M to close enterprise skills gap

Finding the right learning platform can be difficult, especially as companies look to upskill and reskill their talent to meet demand for certain technological capabilities, like data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence roles.

Workera.ai’s approach is to personalize learning plans with targeted resources — both technical and nontechnical roles — based on the current level of a person’s proficiency, thereby closing the skills gap.

The Palo Alto-based company secured $16 million in Series A funding, led by New Enterprise Associates, and including existing investors Owl Ventures and AI Fund, as well as individual investors in the AI field like Richard Socher, Pieter Abbeel, Lake Dai and Mehran Sahami.

Kian Katanforoosh, Workera’s co-founder and CEO, says not every team is structured or feels supported in their learning journey, so the company comes at the solution from several angles with an assessment on mentorship, where the employee wants to go in their career and what skills they need for that, and then Workera will connect those dots from where the employee is in their skillset to where they want to go. Its library has more than 3,000 micro-skills and personalized learning plans.

“It is what we call precision upskilling,” he told TechCrunch. “The skills data then can go to the organization to determine who are the people that can work together best and have a complementary skill set.”

Workera was founded in 2020 by Katanforoosh and James Lee, COO, after working with Andrew Ng, Coursera co-founder and Workera’s chairman. When Lee first connected with Katanforoosh, he knew the company would be able to solve the problem around content and basic fundamentals of upskilling.

It raised a $5 million seed round last October to give the company a total of $21 million raised to date. This latest round was driven by the company’s go-to-market strategy and customer traction after having acquired over 30 customers in 12 countries.

Over the past few quarters, the company began working with Fortune 500 companies, including Accenture and Siemens Energy, across industries like professional services, medical devices and energy, Lee said. As spending on AI skills is expected to exceed $79 billion by 2022, he says Workera will assist in closing the gap.

“We are seeing a need to measure skills,” he added. “The size of the engagements are a sign as is the interest for tech and non-tech teams to develop AI literacy, which is a more pressing need.”

As a result, it was time to increase the engineering and science teams, Katanforoosh said. He plans to use the new funding to invest in more talent in those areas and to build out new products. In addition, there are a lot of natural language processes going on behind the scenes, and he wants the company to better understand it at a granular level so that the company can assess people more precisely.

Carmen Chang, general partner and head of Asia at NEA, said she is a limited partner in Ng’s AI fund and in Coursera, and has looked at a lot of his companies.

She said she is “very excited” to lead the round and about Workera’s concept. The company has a good understanding of the employee skill set, and with the tailored learning program, will be able to grow with company needs, Chang added.

“You can go out and hire anyone, but investing in the people that you have, educating and training them, will give you a look at the totality of your employees,” Chang said. “Workera is able to go in and test with AI and machine learning and map out the skill sets within a company so they will be able to know what they have, and that is valuable, especially in this environment.”

 


By Christine Hall

Vista’s $3.5B purchase of Pluralsight signals a maturing edtech market

On Monday, Pluralsight, a Utah-based startup that sells software development courses to enterprises, announced that it has been acquired by Vista for $3.5 billion.

The deal, yet to close, is one of the largest enterprise buys of the year: Vista is getting an online training company that helps retrain techies with in-demand skills through online courses in the midst of a booming edtech market. Additionally, the sector is losing one of its few publicly traded companies just two years after it debuted on the stock market.

The Pluralsight acquisition is largely a positive signal that shows the strength of edtech’s capital options as the pandemic continues.

Investors and founders told Techcrunch that the Pluralsight acquisition is largely a positive signal that shows the strength of edtech’s capital options as the pandemic continues.

“What’s happening in edtech is that capital markets are liquidating,” said Deborah Quazzo, managing partner of GSV Advisors.

Quazzo, a seed investor in Pluralsight, said the ability to move fluidly between privately held and publicly held companies is a characteristic of tech sectors with deep capital markets, which is different from edtech’s “old days, where the options to exit were very narrow.”


By Natasha Mascarenhas

Online university degree provider 2U acquires Trilogy for $750M to expand into tech bootcamps and training

As more universities turn to offering online degrees to expand their student bodies by way of cyberspace, one of the pioneers in enabling that trend has made an acquisition to expand into new territory around skills training and continuing education. 2U, which helps build online degree programs for a number of top universities, is paying $750 million to acquire Trilogy Education, which creates online and in-person “boot camps” — continuing education programs — in collaboration with universities to train those already in the workforce with tech skills in areas like coding, data analytics, UX/UI, and cybersecurity.

The deal, which is expected to close in the next 60 days, is coming in a combination of cash and shares — $400 million in cash and $350 million in newly issued shares of 2U common stock — the company said. It’s a decent exit for Trilogy, which was valued at $545 million (according to Pitchbook) when it raised $50 million in June 2018. Its investors include Highland Capital, Macquarie and Exceed, among others.

2U, meanwhile, has a market cap of $3.85 billion an is publicly traded on Nasdaq.

The acquisition helps 2U consolidate its university footprint, which will get bumped up to 68 from its previous 36. And it presents an obvious opportunity to up-sell and cross-sell: those who are already jumping into building degree programs can diversify into more skills training, while those who have yet to build full degree services but have created skills training programs now might consider how to parlay that experience into degrees — all from one provider, 2U. This also opens more generally a bigger window for 2U to expand into the continuing education market, which it estimates is worth some $366 billion.

It also helps it better compete with other companies that have already built a dual-track approach to online education, building degrees as well as short courses, like Coursera (Udacity and Udemy are among those that have focused on further education).

“[Trilogy Education] is a natural strategic fit and growth driver for 2U that will extend our reach across the career curriculum continuum, deepen our relationships with new and existing partners, drive marketing efficiencies, and open a more direct corporate training and enterprise sales channel for the company. We expect the addition of Trilogy to accelerate our path to $1 billion in revenue by one year from 2022 to 2021,” 2U Co-Founder and CEO Christopher “Chip” Paucek said in a statement. ​“Increasingly, universities are attempting to add practical, technical skills to their degrees. We simply future-proof the degree by adding this type of technical competency.”

The presence of commercial companies building educational courses for non-profit universities, and taking a cut in the process, has seen more than a little controversy. The business spin that is put on education through these programs not only calls into question how and what schools (and their partners) prioritise in the curriculum, but they raise issues around how higher education is priced, and who profits from these degrees — which sometimes can still cost over $60,000, despite no physical time in classrooms. (There is an excellent dive into the issue here in the Huffington Post, featuring an interview with the co-founder of 2U, John Katzman, who also founded the Princeton Review.)

To be fair, some of the issues around higher education — such as the exorbitantly high cost in some countries, and the fact that it still feels like a largely elitist endeavor with the odds of students gaining acceptance and achieving in top universities still in favor of too-small a privileged subset of families — cannot be completely tied to the development of online learning courses powered by for-profit companies.

And you could also argue that this was bound to be the next step, given how technology has evolved across all of education, and the fact that ed tech is not a core competency for many institutions.

One of the potential positives that comes out of online degree programs is that it gives opportunities to a much wider group of would-be students, and mass market is something that Trilogy knows: it has to date already provided courses for 20,000 people and 1,200 instructors across 120 programs, it says, with an emphasis on practical skills to bring up local workforces, and working with universities to build these courses and connecting with big companies — customers include Google, Microsoft, and Bank of America — to deliver them.

“By joining forces with 2U, Trilogy Education can empower universities to reach more students, in more places, throughout more of their lives, while driving positive economic ​impact in their local regions,” Trilogy Education CEO and Founder Dan Sommer said in a statement. “Trilogy and 2U share a belief that universities are critical to lifelong learning and to meeting the workforce development needs of local economies both domestically and internationally, and we’re proud to further our mission and continue this important work as part of the 2U family.


By Ingrid Lunden