You could Zoom call into your science class, or you could conduct a lab experiment in virtual reality. During the coronavirus pandemic, the latter has never felt more full of potential.

The global need for learning solutions beyond Zoom is precisely why Labster, a Copenhagen-based startup that helps individuals engage in STEM lab scenarios using virtual reality, is growing rapidly. Since March, the usage of Labster’s VR product has increased 15X.

On the heels of this unprecedented momentum, Labster joins a chorus of edtech startups raising right now, and announced it has brought on $9 million in equity venture funding. The round was led by GGV, with participation from existing investors Owl Ventures, Balderton and Northzone.

“COVID-19 has been a great awareness builder of Labster, opening teachers’ eyes to the good sides of online learning as opposed to Zoom-only learning, which is largely failing,” CEO and co-founder Michael Jensen told TechCrunch.

Labster sells its e-learning solution to support and enhance in-person courses. Based on the subscription an institution chooses, participants can get differing degrees of access to a virtual laboratory. Imagine a range of experiments, from understanding bacterial growth and isolation to exploring the biodiversity of an exoplanet. Along with each simulation, Labster offers 3D animations for certain concepts, re-plays of simulations, quiz questions and a virtual learning assistant.

Photo credit: Labster.

While the majority of Labster’s customers are private institutions, the company landed a deal with all of California’s community colleges during the pandemic. The partnership added 2.1 million students to Labster’s customer base, which Jensen said has been bolstered by a broader growth in annual license deals and partnerships.

With GGV on board, Labster is looking to strengthen position in Asia. Breaking into new markets often requires a strategic investor with eyes on the ground on how that market works, thinks and, most importantly, learns. Asian markets are specifically lucrative for edtech companies because consumer spend is higher compared to the North American market.

Jenny Lee, a Shanghai-based partner with GGV, will take a board seat at Labster.

Lee has expressed interest in how automation, virtual and AI-based teachers can help bridge the gap between K-12 markets and lack of good-quality teachers everywhere.

Jensen said that the capital will also be used to bolster the company’s mobile offering, since Asian markets have high mobile usage compared to North American and European markets.

The round is significantly smaller than Labster’s previous $21 million Series B, closed in April of 2019. And it contrasts sharply to the momentum that has benefited edtech companies like MasterClass, Coursera and, reportedly, Udemy into raising nine-figure rounds.

So naturally, I asked Jensen: why the conservative raise?

Jensen says that the $9 million check was a strategic growth check to bring on GGV (all existing investors in Labster also participated in the round). Since being founded in 2012, the company has been relatively conservative in raising cash. To date, inclusive of this round, Labster has raised $40 million in venture capital.

He argues the new money, thus, is offensive capital instead of defensive capital. It’s a strategic check to open a global door.

This isn’t the first time an edtech company has raised a smaller round than expected during the coronavirus pandemic. In April, edtech unicorn Duolingo raised a short $10 million to expand into Asia and bring on General Atlantic as an investor to expand into global markets.

Duolingo, however, is cash-flow positive. Jensen did not comment on if Labster has turned a profit, but adds that it was a “significant up round” that brought the company’s valuation to above $100 million.

“Our primary objectives continue to be rapid growth and global impact, not profits,” he told TechCrunch.

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