Education Investments in India – 2013 (Part 1)

It is more than a year since we took a close look at the education investment landscape in India. In this blog post and a couple of subsequent ones, I would like to cover the following:

  • Quick update on investment landscape in education in India
  • How do we split up the education sector and market potential across sub-sectors
  • What are the challenges for each of these sub-sectors
  • How does this compare to what’s happening in the US

India investment landscape for Education

If we look across all VC and PE investments in India it has held more or less steady in the last few years with about 20 investments and about $200M being invested annually (data below courtesy Venture Intelligence)


If you leave out Private Equity investments (growth stage) and look at only Venture Capital and Angel investments the number for 2012 was about 15 investments (and $55M total invested).


Now, lets dive deeper into what’s happening across the various sub-sectors of Education. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s look at the following sub-sectors: Test Preparation, K12, Higher Education & corporate training and Skills/Certification training

In this blog, let’s take a closer look at Test Preparation and in subsequent blogs we can dive deeper into other sub-sectors.

Test Preparation

Test Preparation companies focus on helping students prepare for various entrance exams for engineering, medical, management and other professional streams.  This is probably one of the largest organized sub-sectors within education and has emerged strongly over the past decade. To set the context, there are about 1.2M students who take the engineering entrance exam and about 350K who take the medical entrance exam alone in India. The total addressable market for this sector is safely north of Rs 3500 Cr in revenue potential. Here is a good blog by education entrepreneur Jayadev Gopalakrishnan pegging the market conservatively at about Rs 4000 Cr.  There are two public companies in this space – Career Point and MT Educare and at least 5 other with revenue >Rs100Cr.

In the blog above, Jayadev points out three major trends – exams going online, exams consolidating (JEE Main as an example where there were multiple entrance exams earlier) and renewed importance of Board exams.

We believe that all three are important and hence companies that embrace technologies such as tablet and online practice systems and offer integrated test preparation have an edge. Integrated test prep refers to programs such as FITJEE and ACE-Deeksha that provide integrated board and entrance test preparation thereby using the students time more efficiently without having to shuttle between school and tuitions (for test prep) and using the extra time to effectively practice online or with tablets (full disclosure: ACE is an Accel Partner India’s portfolio company)

One of the pleasures of being an investor in education is that I get to meet entrepreneurs trying to disrupt test preparation using technology. A few companies that are doing outstanding work in this regard are Edutor (tablet learning), Vedantu (online and tablet), Embibe and Toppr (both provide online/tablet based test prep).  These are just a few off the top of my head – I have met at least a dozen other interesting startups in the space.

Challenges: A few challenges that startups that are taking the technology route need to think through:

  • Platform providers: If you are a technology platform provider to test preparation companies you would need to ensure that you are deeply embedded into the test prep companies ecosystem and that you will not be easily switched out.  A good measure of this  – most test prep companies charge >Rs25K per student/year, what fraction of that are  you able to retain?
  • Primary vs Supplementary: For startups that are aiming to go direct to students and selling their solution as a primary test preparation tool, based on numbers I have been able to gather 70-80% of the 1.2M test takers go to some kind of coaching for test preparation. These students are already bombarded with practice tests from their test prep institute and do not have time to use supplementary tools. And so, for your tool to be used by the student, it might be necessary to get it integrated into the test prep institutes curriculum.
  • Addressable market: You need to be able to command >Rs10,000 per student/year so that if 40% of students use your technology solution that is about a Rs500 Cr market (1.2M*40%*Rs10,000)
  • Distribution: And finally, how will you acquire your student customer? Will it be through coaching institutes or by directly marketing to them? If its direct marketing (online and offline) what will be the cost of customer acquisition and will your revenue per customer (over the two years of preparation) support that customer acquisition cost?

Through the Edustars program (applications open through end of November), we hope to discover that next great disruption in the Test Prep market using technology. The above questions are meant for you to think through the basics of building that business so that we can quickly get past these questions and onto building a company that touches millions of students over the coming decade.  Would love to hear your questions and get your feedback on the Test Prep topic.

Will touch upon the other three topics in the next blog post: K12, Higher Education & corporate training, Skills/Certification training

Note: published this blog here.

Upskilling 150 Million People


The Economist recently ran a special report on India which was highly informative. I particularly found “A Billion Brains” to be a great summary of the education scene in India. One aspect called out in the article was the humongous skill gap that we have in India.

Here is the gist of it. The current annual demand for skilled labor in India can employ 100% of the population entering employable age. But only 4 MM people (2.8 MM through higher education and 1.2 MM through vocational training) are getting any sort of formal training while 17 MM trained labor is required every year. Majority of graduates study humanities (2.5 MM) and hence have to be trained on the job. The following slides share more details on the demand for labor across sectors and the supply side issues.

Skill Gap In India

Given the above context, the efforts of the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) to upskill 150 MM people by 2022, is quite commendable. Here are some highlights from my conversation with NSDC on this topic.

  • Goals: They have 20 identified sectors (plus the unorganized sectors) on which they have tons of market information they have shared via this knowledge bank. They have approved 77 projects so far (61 in training/upskilling and 16 for sector skill council ventures)
  • Criteria for selection: a) Main focus is the ability of the funded project/company to upskill/train a minimum of 100K people in 10 years (this number could be across sectors – same company training IT, Hardware, etc.). b) 70% of the trained people should be gainfully employed. c) And the company should have a robust 10 year business plan
  • Structure of the funding: No specific cap on the funding. They will fund 75% of project cost (without land and buildings). Money is given out in tranches. Mostly as loans – 6% interest (could have an interest moratorium of 2-4 yrs)
  • Stage of the company: They are open to funding from early stage startups to mature companies (as shown in the table below. But, it helps to have some early proof points on how the model will work
  • Sectors: They are keen to fund projects across all 20 identified sectors but seem to have more of an appetite for non-IT projects to balance out their portfolio

The table below summarizes the list of projects they have listed on the website. As you can see, these listed projects aim to upskill about 70 MM people over 10 years and on an average each project upskills about 1.4 MM people at a cost of Rs 36 Crores over 10 years.

NSDC Projects

For startups out there in the training/skills development space (particularly non-IT), NSDC could be a great way for you to get non-dilutive funding for scaling up your operations. If you are a company that has gone through the NSDC process, it would be great if you can share your experiences/tips for other aspiring skills development startups.

Introducing Edustars

Go to the EduStars website

Education continues to be an exciting sector for entrepreneurial ventures in India. The following chart shows the extent and frequency of the investments that were made in this sector by Private Equity investors (including Venture Capitalists) over the past few years.

Source: Venture Intelligence, Jan 2012

A recent poll conducted among various investors showed that education is one of the most favored sectors for investing.

Source: Venture Intelligence, Jan 2012

What makes education an exciting sector? Anything new?

In his comparison of India and China, Professor Yasheng Huang of MIT – an expert economist on India and China – calls out education (and thereby Human Capital) as one the top reasons why China is ahead.

Here is a link to Prof Huang’s recent presentation at TED. (Forward to 10:30 if you are pressed for time)

This presents a great opportunity for Indian entrepreneurs to have an impact on the Indian education ecosystem – be it K-12, Higher Education or Skills Development. The growing penetration of technology (mobile/tablet devices, internet, etc.) provides greater opportunity to reach out to millions of people and provide more personalized learning options (Khan Academy is pursuing a similar strategy in the US today). There are several opportunities to make the learning process an enjoyable experience. For example, social media tools can be leveraged to improve user interaction and promote group learning.

Why Edustars?

As of right now, in India there is no convenient platform for information sharing among the Education entrepreneurial community.

Edustars has been created to fill that particular need.

At a high level, Edustars aims to:

  • Provide an online platform for information sharing
  • Provide access to a world class mentoring team with deep domain expertise
  • Periodically recognize outstanding startups with an “Edustar” award, thereby providing nationwide visibility
  • Provide information from similar startups around the world with regard to their challenges and triumphs.

We welcome suggestions from education startups regarding any other venues wherein Edustars can add value and contribute towards your overall su


Investing in Education – MIT Enterprise Forum Event

I had the pleasure of participating in the MIT Enterprise Forum Bangalore‘s kick-off event last night. The topic for the night was “Education”. The event was well attended and it was great to see the entrepreneurial energy and excitement among the participants around this sector.

I was asked to share my perspective on investing in education and so I put together a few slides on the topic. Post the event, I have received a handful of requests to share the presentation. And so, here it is (a cleaned up and shortened version). Obviously, without the verbal commentary this presentation only tells a partial story. But, happy to engage with entrepreneurs who share a mutual interest in improving the education ecosystem in India.

Investing in Indian Education Ecosystem