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Global investors back London seed fund to tackle work-skills crisis

A new London-based seed fund, building a technology portfolio to tackle the alarmingly fast-growing hole in contemporary work-centred skills, is attracting a dream team of top global investors.

They include US education industry giants Dan Sommer and Rob Cohen, UK education leaders Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Assessment, the higher and further education technology body Jisc, Nesta, as well as Brazilian higher education group Grupo Tiradentes.

Dan Sommer, founder of Trilogy Education (acquired by 2u for $750m in April 2019) and Rob Cohen, first full-time employee at The Princeton Review, founding CFO of 2U, have joined the backers of Emerge Education’s investment fund, which looks beyond the limited edtech market to the large and growing $8.5tn (by 2030) work skills market.

Automation and globalisation, arguably coupled with a lack of innovation in existing education institutions, are creating a worldwide talent supply shortage and a demand for new, tech-based forms of education, training and lifelong learning, at scale.

Dan Sommer, who now runs investment firm 10x Impact, said: “I have seen some very interesting startups coming out of Europe recently. At 10x, we are always looking at global education trends which made an investment in Emerge a natural fit.”

Cambridge University Press CEO Peter Philips added: “This investment enables Cambridge University Press and our colleagues at Cambridge Assessment to stay close to digital innovators in a time of rapid change.”

The new fund is initially making £250k investments in 20-25 pre-seed and seed companies in Europe, with the ability to increase its exposure to £1m per company in later rounds.

The startups all meet a rapidly growing demand from customers and companies by delivering access to skills training and education that is flexible, massively scalable and aligned to industry needs.

The fund is underpinned by Emerge’s unique market expertise, experience and insight, building on five solid years of investing in education founders through an investment syndicate led by Jan Lynn-Matern and Nic Newman.

Its previous 55 investments have attracted over £100m in funding from VCs such as Local Globe, Stride, Project A, Rethink Education, Learn Capital and Reach Capital. The fund’s existing portfolio includes Unibuddy, Aula, Fourth Rev and Sales Impact Academy.

Emerge’s founder Jan Lynn-Matern said: “Unlike other funds, 50% of our team is fully focused on nurturing our network and extracting valuable insights from the most important groups of customers and partners our portfolio companies serve. In return, we act as an innovation radar for this network.”

Nic Newman, who co-founded and exited 300-person tech company TigerSpike prior to joining Emerge, said: “We’re extremely passionate about the education sector and the impact that our companies can create to help people lead more fulfilled lives.

“We’ve succeeded in finding the sectors where you can really make excellent ROI and create a significant impact.”