Startup Watchlist 2021
The Inc42’s annual series, Startup Watchlist brings together the list of top growth stage startups to watch out for in 2021 across various industries.
This article is part of the fifth edition of Inc42’s Startup Watchlist series, an annual series in which we list the top growth-stage startups to watch out every year from some of the most trending industries in the Indian startup ecosystem. Explore all the stories from the ‘Startup Watchlist’ 2021 edition series here.
You can view our early-stage discovery watchlist here.
When the history of the Covid-19 pandemic is written from the perspective of businesses, edtech players will only have positive things to say about it. Be it in the form of online coding classes, or the K-12 coaching modules, without edtech, 2020 would have been a lost year in terms of education.
In 2020 alone, the edtech segment attracted $1.4 Bn funding, compared to $1.8 Bn raised by edtech startups across 303 deals between 2014 and 2019 combined. Of the total funding raised in 2020, online test preparation startups like BYJU’S, Unacademy, Embibe, etc, grabbed 79% followed by 8.4% for online certification startups such as upGrad, Vedantu and others, as per data recorded by Inc42 Plus.
Further, Inc42 Plus revealed that out of 101 edtech startups that were funded last year, about 51 of them received seed-stage funding.
In our early-stage discovery series “30 Startups To Watch” we have featured some of the most promising early-stage startups in the edtech space that you can view here.
Besides the surge in funding, the year also witnessed a slew of mergers and acquisitions (M&As), led by edtech majors like BYJU’S and Unacademy. For instance, Unacademy acquired six startups, including CodeChef, PrepLadder, Mastree, Kreatryx, Coursavy and NeoStencil. Also, edtech unicorn BYJU’S acquired immersive learning startup LabInApp, alongside acquiring kids coding platform WhiteHat Jr for a whopping $300 Mn.
As the Indian edtech market is poised to touch $10.2 Bn in the next five years. According to Inc42 Plus, K-12 learning solution is expected to account for 41% of the total edtech market size by 2025, where the K-12 learning solution is estimated to see a surge of 3.7x in the projected years, with coding and other STEM-related skills driving user adoption.
Leaving no stone unturned, both new and existing edtech startups are coming up with unique business models and product offerings, alongside driving the engagement of users through gamification and interactive applications and products.
Needless to say, startups that have a strong business and revenue model will thrive in the coming times. Profitability is the key to unlock the potential in the edtech space going forward.
For 2021, Inc42 has curated a list of edtech startups that are expected to make the biggest impact in the market, and have the potential to shine in the new year.
Here are the top 10 edtech startups that made it to the fifth edition of Startup Watchlist 2021:
Editor’s Note: The startups listed below are in alphabetical order, and do not represent the ranking of the companies in any manner.
Awign Enterprises: Enabling Enterprises Through Skilling Gig Workforce
Outsourcing can be tricky, but when done right, it can yield great results for businesses. Looking at a $455 Bn market is Bengaluru-based gig workforce training platform Awign Enterprises, which claims to fulfil ‘on-the-ground’ as well as digital core functions like operations management, proctoring, auditing, due diligence, last-mile delivery, new business development, and digital gigs through its 650K+ highly trained and skilled gig partners across India.
Unlike other competitors in the space, Awign said that it bills its customers only when the outcomes are delivered and not on the basis of man-hours. In terms of revenue, the company claims to have grown 30x times in monthly top line since March 2018 and has completed over 5 Mn tasks till date, and it earns commission from each transaction.
Currently, present in over 9K pin codes spread across 400+ cities, Awign said that it is operationally profitable with a key focus on maintaining healthy unit economics. “While the focus is on rapid growth in the next few quarters, we aim to break even in the next 18 months,” added Annanya Sarthak, cofounder of Awign.
Classplus: Empowering Tutors To Go Digital
In India, close to 7 Cr+ students take tuitions every year in local offline coaching institutes. These tutors are highly respected in the market and are entrepreneurs in the truest sense. But, in the digital age, the tutors find themselves devoid of any technology to give their students a digital learning experience and are not able to compete with the big online edtech players.
Focussing on the coaching institutions’ teachers is Classplus. The company claims to empower educators through a simple mobile-first product that helps them in sharing messages, homework, online tests, video lectures with online students across the country. The app also helps in taking digital payments. Within a few weeks of the launch, the coaching app saw 200K+ users registering on the platform.
Currently, Classplus charges a subscription fee to its customers. In the last one year, the company has grown by almost 10x, catering to educators and students from 4K+ pin codes across the country, and a few users are also coming from Asian countries.
“We see ourselves as the de-facto tech platform used by every teacher across Southeast Asia. We will enable millions of teachers to kickstart their online teaching business and create a global experience for them on technology,” said Mukul Rustagi, the cofounder of Classplus.
Doubtnut: Leveraging ML & Al To Make Learning Accessible For All
As a large majority of edtech startups are focussed on students in metros and Tier 1 cities, there are very few startups that address the learning gaps in Tier 2 and Tier 3 regions, particularly with an offering of doubt resolution service in vernacular languages.
This is where Delhi NCR based Doubtnut comes into the picture, a multi-lingual online learning platform that uses image recognition, natural language processing and proprietary machine learning algorithms to provide video-based solutions in response to students’ queries in vernacular languages in K12 category.
“90% of our students today are outside of the top six cities, where we cover across 15+ boards with 60% users coming from state boards, including UP Board, Bihar Board, etc” said Tanushree Nagori, cofounder of Doubtnut.
Doubtnut uses the data shared by more than 2 Mn+ daily active users (DAU) to recommend students the right content, including live classes, notes, tests so as to help the students learn better. Still in its early days, the company started monetisation only in September 2020. Within a span of four months, it has witnessed a 10x revenue growth. The company told Inc42 that in the past 10 months it witnessed a 213% increase in DAU on the app, and 400% increase in questions asked.
In the coming months, Doubtnut looks to focus on content creation and product localisation for different geographies/languages across India, expand service offerings (Live courses for various state boards and competitive exams) and team across tech, product, sales and growth. “We are also exploring new geographies outside India,” concluded Aditya Shankar, cofounder of Doubtnut.
Masai School: Creating A New Breed Of Software Developers And Programmers
Bengaluru-based edtech startup Masai School is eyeing a $3.1 Bn software development and programming market, where it looks to train beginners as well as experienced professionals via the Income-Sharing Agreement (ISA) model. Currently, Masai offers two programs, one of which is for beginners who have zero knowledge of coding, and the other is for those who are experienced coders.
Under the ISA model students do not pay any tuition fee upfront, instead, they pay back only after getting a job with a salary package of INR 5 Lakh per annum or more. Masai School said that the students pay back the fee through 15% of their monthly income for 36 months, until they make a total payment of INR 3 Lakh.
During the pandemic, Masai School, which used to have an offline presence, turned into a fully online model and accepted students into batches from all over the country.
“While we were at it, we understood that some students coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds did not have the right infrastructure for the internet and a laptop at home. So, we started the Glide Program,” he added, stating that the top-performing students get a living allowance of INR 15K, which is adjusted for in their ISA payments.
Masai School currently has 450 students onboard. In the last ten months, the platform has tripled its user base reaching across 25 states in India. The company now claims to have become cash-flow positive. Masai School told Inc42 that, in 2021, it will foray into three new verticals, including a programme for pre-final year college students for software development, UI/UX training, and data analytics.
Pesto: Builds Remote Workforce For International Companies
While Masai School targets anyone and everyone who is interested in software development and programming, Pesto looks to target developers across India with a minimum of two years of work experience. “We narrowed our audience after doing multiple surveys with 100K+ signups for the programme,” said Ayush Jaiswal, cofounder of Pesto Tech.
Again, similar to Masai School, Pesto also follows an ‘Income Sharing Agreement’ model, where it takes a cut in its student’s salaries. The company’s hiring partners are based in the US. While there wasn’t any change in the business model during the pandemic, the company said that it decided to focus more on the international market with remote work becoming mainstream, witnessing 200% growth in revenue and doubling of its team size.
Pesto Tech is currently present in 25 states and has hiring partners in 25+ countries. The company is yet to become profitable.
“Nature of ISAs creates delayed revenue,” shared Jaiswal, stating that they are on a path to profitability, as it aims to grow 5x in terms of paying customers in the coming months.
Practically: AI-Based Realtime Attentiveness Idex And Virtual Classroom Platform
Launched during the lockdown in April 2020, Hyderabad-based Practically offers an AI-based, realtime attentiveness index and a virtual classroom session to schools. Its primary target audience includes students in grade 6-12 and their parents (B2C), alongside teachers and schools management (B2B2C), which is free. However, it charges subscription-fee starting from INR 1.3K to INR 3K per month, for parents of these school students. Practically has started generating revenue in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana markets.
“The expected revenue from these markets is INR 40 Cr in FY22. We are looking to expand pan India in 2021,” said Subbarao Siddabattula, the founder and CEO of Practically.
Today Practically claims to have about 3 Lakh+ students engaging with its content on a regular basis and over 130+ schools as its clients. Recently, it expanded to the Middle East market as well and has also started onboarding some large prestigious school brands and regional partners as customers, along with launching Practically Live classes for STEM subjects and coding.
“While we currently focus only on grades 6-12, in 2021 we will also enter the K-5 segment, alongside expansion to the US market by the end of this year. We are also exploring partners in countries where there is a need for content in another language,” concluded Charu Noheria, the cofounder of Practically, pointing at a $28.8 Bn private education out-of-school market and 110 Mn edtech users by 2022.
Quizizz: Gamified Quizzing App For Teachers And Corporates
During the pandemic, educators were going through a difficult phase and were struggling to keep their students engaged in the remote learning environment. Edtech platform Quizizz focused on that opportunity and its easy-to-use platform attracted teachers who were using technology for the first time towards the app. From casual users to creators as well as teachers are currently using the app to make engagement and learning fun via gamification and analytics.
In the last few quarters, the company grew rapidly and now serves over 65 Mn monthly active users (MAU) across different geographical areas.
“We have more than doubled our numbers in the last 10 months,” said Ankit Gupta, cofounder of Quizizz, stating that it is present in over 50% of the schools in the US. Inc42 exclusively covered the growth journey of Quizizz.
This Bengaluru and Santa Monica-based edtech platform Quizizz now touches users in over 150 countries around the world each month — Asia and the European markets are the fastest-growing. Currently, the company offers a freemium SaaS model, where it offers basic features free of cost to instructors/teachers, and they need to subscribe to its paid plans for unlocking premium features.
With remote working hampering the employee engagement and communication across teams, Quizizz has also started catering to corporate clients, including many fortune 500 companies like AWS, Discovery Network, Deloitte, and more. In the coming months, Quizizz looks to evolve its product offerings and try to solve more use cases for educators and learners.
Skillmatics: Designs Kids Toys And Games To Build Core Skills
Mumbai-based Skillmatics is a new age direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand in the edtech space that develops innovative educational products and games, specifically designed to help children build core skills through systematic play. Till date, the company has sold close to 3 Mn units of toys and games, globally, and also claims to be the first Indian brand ever to be launched across 10K US retailers, including Walmart and Target.
Currently, focusing on parents of children between three to nine years of age, Sequoia-backed Skillmatics is looking at disrupting the $100 Bn global industry, where it is selling directly to consumers in North America while leveraging India’s structural advantages such as low manufacturing and people costs, high-quality tech talent and content creation expertise.
“We leverage data analytics to create products and have built a vertically integrated supply chain with in-house manufacturing to rapidly launch and scale these products 5x faster than incumbent brands,” claimed Dhvanil Sheth, cofounder of Skillmatics.
In terms of the unit economics of the company, Skillmatics cofounder Devanshi Kejriwal said that it is profitable at the bottom-line level and generates free cash every month. “We have always run a capital-efficient business as our long term plan is to go public,” revealed Kejriwal, and said that this year, the company plans to make investments in brand, product offerings and team expansion.
Testbook: Govt Exam Preparation Platform
Landing a government job in India is almost close to winning a lottery ticket — the success rate is close to 1%, given the competitive environment and time-bound nature of the exams. This is where Testbook comes into play, which claims to serve close to 90 Mn applicants every year. It is interesting to note that this government jobs exam preparation market in India, in itself is a whopping $5 Bn opportunity.
The company claims to have successfully placed more than 38K job seekers into one of these jobs in the last 3 years. For government job aspirants, Testbook claims to improve exam scores by up to 53%, increasing the probability of selection rate in government exams to 7%, compared to the national average of 1%. “This directly reduces the selection time of an aspirant, which is two to three years currently, saving time and resources,” shared Ashutosh Kumar, cofounder of Testbook.
Currently, following a freemium model, close to 15% of the learning content on the platform is available for free to users to try out the content quality and product experience. However, for online mock tests, yearly subscription fee is charged at INR 700 per user, which allows them access to 12000+ mock tests, and 200+ exam study materials.
Besides this, Testbook also offers users the options to buy monthly and half-yearly subscriptions for mock tests. On the other hand, its online courses, for different exams, are priced anywhere between INR 500 to INR 5K. The company claims to have more than 60 Lakh monthly active users (MAU), out of which 7 Lakh+ are active paid subscribers.
During the pandemic last year, except the two months of the lockdown, the company claimed that govt exam aspirants have shown enormous inclination towards online learning, witnessing 20K new learners joining Testbook, on a daily basis. Also, its monthly revenue has jumped 4x since April 2020, and is expected to grow 10x in FY21 while maintaining high gross margins.
Winuall: Learning Management Platform For Tutors
Tutoring industry witnessed a massive digital transformation during Covid. With social distancing and lockdown in place, many private tutors and tuition centres were out of business. Platforms like Winuall came to the rescue of many tutors, which provided them with all the necessary tools that helped them teach their students remotely.
Similar to Classplus, Winuall also focuses on small and medium-sized institutions. It charges a subscription fee from tutors, where they also get to sell their products and courses on the platform to their students. “We take a small percentage of commission from every conversion,” said Ashwini Purohit, cofounder of Winuall.
In the last ten months, Winuall witnessed 50x growth in terms of acquiring customers, alongside growing its team by 10x across India. Currently, earnings from subscription fees collected from tutors, the company believes, would lead them to become a sustainable business in the coming months.
Sharing the future plans with Inc42, Purohit said “2021, we are focusing on acquiring more tutors and helping them go digital and sell courses online,” pointing at a market size of 2.5 Mn tutors across India.
Editor’s Note: The startups were selected on the basis of editorial discretion, keeping in mind various factors such as revenue growth, profitability, funding stage, pivot and growth of the companies in the preceding year among other factors, and have been weighted thoroughly on the basis of the performance of the companies, and some of the information was also gathered from public and private sources.