Another Education Start-up From India Gets Seed Round From Pearson Affordable Learning Fund

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Education start-ups in India seem to be the hottest targets right now, going by the kind of funding they are attracting from local and global investors. A couple of days ago, Delhi-based start-up Avanti Learning Centres raised an undisclosed amount in seed funding from Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF). Two more angel investors also took part in the round. Avanti will use the seed round to develop an online-offline learning & monitoring system, create more educational content and build new learning centres. Currently, the education start-up operates stand-alone and in-school centres in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kanpur, Roorkee and Puducherry, besides helping the students in three Tibetan schools in Uttarakhand and Karnataka.

This is the second investment in India that Pearson has made through PALF, and the third overall since the fund was launched in July 2012.

In November this year, Global education leader Pearson's inaugural edupreneur programme , jointly launched by PALF and US-based investor Village Capital, came to a close with Experifun and Sudiksha Knowledge Solutions walking off with a seed funding of $75,000 each. The investments will enable the start-ups to further develop their low-cost education ventures and assist underprivileged school children.

Pearson launched PALF in July 2012 with a capital of $15 million. Investments are made into private companies that offer affordable educational services and schooling in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Set up as a non-profit in March 2010 by Akshay Saxena and Krishna Ramkumar, Avanti Learning Centres supports students from low-income families (those with a family income of $5,000 per annum or below) and prepares them for college entrance exams, especially the highly competitive engineering and medical entrance tests. Students can study up to 18 hours a week at a centre and need to pay only $20 per month. Costs are kept low as a large network of volunteers and partners, including universities, public schools, policy makers and private sector businesses, help with teaching and administration.

Instead of traditional lectures, Avanti follows a comprehensive programme including book learning, videos, peer learning (developed by Dr Eric Mazur, the company's chief academic advisor and a physics professor at Harvard), self study & group work, recorded lectures, mentoring and doubt-solving. Students are enrolled after a highly selective two-stage process.

"It was the commitment from Akshay and Krishna to focus on improving the education of low-income communities, combined with an innovative learning model, which was the most attractive aspect of the investment opportunity," said PALF executive director, Katelyn Donnelly.

"Avanti is particularly exciting because it is a non-traditional pedagogy with very strong initial results. Our investment allows us to partner with a mission-led company to bridge a crucial gap between secondary and higher education for low-income learners. PALF is enthused to support the Avanti team to successfully grow across India, and we look forward to working with them to deliver on their long-term vision," she added.

Commenting on the funding, Saxena said, "Once we decided that a for-profit model was the best way to reach scale, we knew we would need expert strategic insight and advice. We are incredibly excited to be working with the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund as they bring unrivalled education expertise to the table that can help us achieve our long-term objectives. We look forward to building upon the relationship with Pearson as we improve outcomes for low-income learners in the years to come."

Recent fundraising by education start-ups
uFaber: Mumbai-based uFaber Edutech (http://www.ufaber.com/), which runs an online education marketplace for professional skill development, hobbies, crafts, academics and vocational training, got Rs 37 lakh from Ah! Seeders, the seed funding network of Club Ah! It is the network's maiden investment in India after its launch in the country. Ah! Seeders puts its money into very early stage companies and typically invests in the range of Rs 25-50 lakh.

Meritnation: Delhi-based Applect Learning Systems, which runs the online education and assessment site Meritnation.com (http://www.meritnation.com/), secured Rs 10 crore from Info Edge (India) Ltd, the biggest consumer Internet company in India by market value. With this fresh round, Info Edge has put in a total of Rs 71.5 crore and holds around 55.81% stake in Applect (on a fully diluted and converted basis).

InOpen Technologies: Mumbai-based InOpen Technologies (http://inopen.in/), a start-up developing educational content and teacher's training solutions, received an undisclosed sum in Series A from Japanese education firm Benesse Holdings, Inc. In August 2011, the company raised $500,000 in seed funding from Ventureast Tenet Fund II.

MangoSense: The Pune-based edutainment start-up (http://mangosense.com/) got an undisclosed amount from Mumbai Angels. Its products include MangoReader, MangoReach and MangoSocial, through which users can create a fun and social environment for reading books and sharing them with friends.

K2 Learning: Bangalore-based hybrid (online-offline) start-up K2 (http://k2learning.in/) secured Rs 8 crore in angel funding from Radheshyam Agarwal, founder and director of Calcutta Tube India. The start-up specialises in commerce content and plans to set up Tab Labs in more than 100 colleges that will get special tablets with pre-loaded commerce data.

Simplilearn: Bangalore-based Simplilearn Solutions (www.Simplilearn.com), a company offering professional certification courses online, secured $10 million in Series B funding from Helion Venture Partners and existing investor Kalaari Capital.
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