Unacademy gears up to take on Byju's K-12 education, coding space

Unacademy picked 51 per cent stake in K-12 learning platform Mastree for $5 million to strengthen its presence in the K-12 learning space
After raising mega funding from SoftBank and Tiger Global, edtech company Unacademy is gearing up to take on decacorn Byju’s by tapping the K-12 education space and teaching coding to children. Facebook-backed Unacademy is mainly dominant in the area of exam preparation space. “It would be a head-to-head competition with Byju’s,” said an industry source.

Flush with fresh funds, the Bengaluru-based company is planning to make acquisitions and pick strategic stakes in firms that would help it to achieve this goal, according to sources. 

This year, Unacademy picked 51 per cent stake in K-12 learning platform Mastree for $5 million to strengthen its presence in the K-12 learning space. Mastree is building a one-stop subscription product for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) courses for classes V-VIII. In July, it acquired the postgraduate medical entrance exam preparation platform, PrepLadder, for $50 million. 

Earlier this year, Unacademy acquired Kreatryx, an online preparation platform for GATE and the Engineering Services Exam (ESE), in a cash and stock deal. In September, it purchased Coursavy, a platform for UPSC test preparation, for an undisclosed amount.

Sources said what differentiates Unacademy from edtech players, including Byju’s, is that the others create the content and provide video recording to the students. Unacademy, however, provides live tutoring, where it connects students with educators, said sources.

“Unacademy has distinguished itself in test preparation classes by recruiting star teachers who help attract ambitious students taking everything from civil service and banking exams to programming languages,” said Salman Waris, managing partner at technology law firm TechLegis Advocates and Solicitors. “After raising large funding from SoftBank and Tiger Global, tapping the K-12 education space and gearing up to take on Byju’s, seems only a logical step in its (Unacademy) growth story.”

The firm, founded by Gaurav Munjal, Roman Saini, and Hemesh Singh in 2015 (and on YouTube in 2010), has become one of the largest learning platforms, with over 47,000 educators teaching in over 14 Indian languages, and learners spread across 5,000 cities. Over 150,000 live classes are conducted on the platform each month. The collective watch time across platforms is over 2 billion minutes per month.

The country’s $180-billion education sector has gone online to adapt to the new reality, leading to opportunities for edtech firms, including Unacademy, Vedantu, and Byju’s.

“Competition in the edtech space is heating up with the exponential growth the segment has witnessed since lockdown,” said Ankur Pahwa, partner and national leader, e-commerce and consumer internet at EY India. “Considering the increased interest amongst students, teachers, and schools provides multiple avenues for start-ups and investors to ride the wave long term, considering that the demand uptake is still in its early stages. As service offerings expand and companies go omnichannel, the relevance and penetration will increase.”

Pahwa said companies in the edtech space are focusing on various areas of education such as K-12, exam prep, subject-specific, upskilling, B2B education, and coding. He said along with it they are deploying various advanced technologies such as Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and live interactions in order to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. 

Unacademy is also scaling up its efforts in the coding space to take on Byju’s, which in August bought Mumbai-based WhiteHat Jr, which teaches coding to children, for $300 million. 

Unacademy also acquired Mumbai-based competitive programming platform, CodeChef. As a part of Unacademy, sources said, CodeChef is doubling down on its mission to create the best coding platform along with high-quality free courses for students to learn programming. 

Unacademy recently raised a fresh undisclosed investment from Tiger Global and US-based Dragoneer Investment Group. It said the deal values Unacademy at $2 billion. In September, it raised $150 million. At the time, the firm’s valuation had trebled to $1.45 billion in six months and it had become the most valued edtech start-up after Byju’s.

Analysts, however, said it is not going to be easy for Unacademy to compete with Byju’s, which in less than two months after raising $500 million is learnt to have closed another $200 million funding round. This has lifted the Bengaluru-based firm’s valuation to $12 billion — almost $1 billion higher when compared with the previous round.



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