Despite the recent boom in consumer-driven learning platforms in India, the vast majority of students in the South Asian nation are still unserved. Existing B2C offers are expensive for most students and heavily geared towards high school students preparing for competitive exams.
LEAD School, a nine-year-old startup, is tackling this disconnect by leveraging an infrastructure that already has wide reach in the country: schools. And the model works.
WestBridge Capital said Thursday it is leading LEAD School’s Series E funding, raising $95 million alone. The new funding round, in which GSV Ventures also participated, and which brings LEAD School’s fundraising to $170 million, has doubled the startup’s valuation to $1.1 billion in nine months.
LEAD School, founded by couple Sumeet Mehta and Smita Deorah (pictured below), works with thousands of K-12 schools where it has integrated its platform that helps them secure books and other resources from vendors , thereby reducing intermediaries and providing quality assurance. Most schools serve low-income families, and LEAD estimates there will be over 5,000 schools in April when the new term begins.
But more importantly, and why the couple launched LEAD School in the first place, the startup is helping teachers design the curriculum and find ways to better convey concepts to students and assess learning outcomes.
The startup works closely with students to understand areas where they need improvement. LEAD School has found that the biggest challenge most students face is understanding English, a factor that also impacts how they approach most other subjects.
Focusing on eliminating the fundamentals first has helped students at LEAD school institutions achieve more than 70% fluency in all subjects, Deorah said in an interview with TechCrunch.
“If India is to realize its true potential, its schools must transform in meaningful ways so that every child can realize their true potential. But in K-12, everyone talked about edtech which speaks directly to students bypassing schools. And everyone is focused on test prep and tuition. Because people have accepted that schools cannot be improved. But we thought differently. A child spends six hours in school and one hour in class. If we can transform schools, imagine what is possible?! That’s why we focused on school edtech,” she said.
“Typically for a school that partners with LEAD, it improves student learning outcomes by 20-25%,” she said, adding that the startup expects to serve 2 million students in April. “What makes us proud are the results of the students. It’s what helped us reach the scale we are today.
The pandemic, which has prompted New Delhi and state governments to repeatedly close schools, has created an additional hurdle for students. Most of these students come from families that don’t have multiple smartphones or other devices at home.
To address this issue, LEAD School has worked with teachers to offer live, asynchronous virtual classes so students can watch class and do their homework with more flexibility, she said.
“Here we’re talking about households where kids don’t have personal devices. Of the kids we serve, just 5-10% of their parents have purchased a tablet for them,” she said. “Synchronous learning is not possible in this ecosystem.”
“LEAD’s quality of education is already revolutionizing the way Indian students are taught on a large scale,” said Rohan Malhotra, managing partner of Good Capital, a venture capital firm that is one of the first backers of startup fund.
“We are extremely proud of LEAD’s success as India’s largest school education technology provider. LEAD’s growth over the past year, despite COVID-related disruptions, underscores its consumer-centric approach and deep focus on learning outcomes. We are delighted to double our investment in LEAD, to support its mission to transform the education sector in India and touch the lives of millions of students,” said Sandeep Singhal, Managing Director of WestBridge Capital, in a statement. .
LEAD School expects to achieve annual sales of $80 million in the new school year. The startup plans to deploy the new funds to innovate on products and programs. It aims to reach 25 million students and raise its ARR to $1 billion.
With over 250 million students in school, India is home to one of the largest education markets in the world. Indian parents spend a lot on their children’s education as they see it as the key to economic progress and a better life.
Dozens of companies, including edtech giants Byju’s, Unacademy and Vedantu, as well as US giants such as Amazon, Facebook and Google, are trying to reach students across the country.
“[LEAD School] acts as Intel’s Inside for Affordable Schools and guarantees 70%+ fluency in all subjects and grades for low/middle income students and exceeds the guarantee,” said Deborah Quazzo, Partner director of GSV Ventures, in a press release.
“At GSV, we believe the Proficiency Guarantee is a game-changing offering in the K12 education space and has the potential to be societal transformational for students. With this strong and unique value proposition and its exceptional leadership team, LEAD is well on its way to becoming the largest and most influential school technology company in the world,” she said.