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MOOC startup Udacity raises new funding at $1B valuation

Sebastian Thrun, CEO, Udacity

Sebastian Thrun, CEO, Udacity

US-based Udacity has raised $105 million (around Rs 695.1 crore) in Series D round of funding that valued the massive open online courses (MOOC) startup at $1 billion.

The round was led by German media group Bertelsmann while Scotland’s investment firm Baillie Gifford, Emerson Collective – a charity run by Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs – and Google Ventures joined as new investors, a statement from the company said.

Udacity’s existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Charles River Ventures and Drive Capital also participated in the round.

As a part of the deal, Bertelsmann CEO Kay Krafft will join Udacity’s board.

Udacity, which is now the newest member in the club of unicorns, will use the money raised to scale its business and expand into new geographies.

The company was established by former Google X research lab co-founder Sebastian Thrun in 2012 along with David Stavens and Michael Sokolsky. However, the latter two are no longer with the company.

Udacity provides specialised software training and vocational courses through its nanodegree programmes. It claims to have trained about 11,000 students from 168 countries last year.

MOOCs are aimed at securing unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets, many MOOCs provide interactive user forums to support community interactions between students, professors and teaching assistants.

Udacity works with a host of tech companies including Google, Cisco and Facebook to develop courses. Once the students receive the nanodegrees, the startup offers them further introductions and guidance to interview for jobs with the leading technology companies.

It recently inked a partnership with Google and Tata Trusts to bring its flagship nanodegree courses to India.

In India, IIM Bangalore in partnership with EdX offers a series of free MOOCs and in May this year, British Council launched a number of MOOCs on IELTS and English. Delhi University and IIT-Kanpur also have MOOCs on a number of subjects. In addition, various online educational startups such as Coursera offer MOOCs.

The edu-tech space has been generating tremendous interest among investors. Recently, MockBank, a startup that provides online mock tests for government jobs, raised about $400,000 (Rs 2.6 crore) in seed funding from Blume Ventures and others.

Recently, Prozo.com, an online marketplace for buying and selling study material, secured seed funding of $205,000 (Rs 1.37 crore) from a group of investors.

US-based Coursera Inc, an education technology company that partners with universities to offer courses online, also secured $49.5 million in the first closing of Series C funding from New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Times Internet (TIL) and others investors.

Dave Richards, managing partner of Unitus Seed Fund, recently told Techcircle.in that gaming and edu-tech domains could produce the next unicorn from India.

“You can get a smartphone in India for Rs 2,500 and it’s getting cheaper every week. This is a platform that even kids in rural areas are comfortable with. Even those who do not own smartphones today will own one in future as prices will fall further. All this augurs well for two major industries — gaming and ed-tech. I suspect India could see the creation of billion dollar businesses in gaming and edu-tech,” he said.

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