Unicorns are real and we’ve mapped their DNA for you – EdTech Unicorns Blog series part 1

They say unicorns are not real, but I’ve seen them. Wait… it gets better, I’ve tracked them down and mapped their DNA. No, I’m not talking about a horse-looking creature with a horn, but about startup companies with a valuation of over $1 billion. Now I’ve got particular tates and one breed has been the subject of my study: the EdTech unicorn.

Over a series of seven posts, I will share the insights I gathered from mapping EdTech unicorns. I’ve spent three weeks dedicated to detect the DNA behind their sparkle. This is the first part of the EdTech Unicorn Blog series. I will show you who they are, the industries in which they are located, how much they are worth, what makes them unicorns (their secret sparkle), and what we can learn from them. This blog will give us a summary across all EdTech unicorns before we get to deep-dive in each of the EdTech unicorns’ sub “species.” 


Why is it important to understand unicorns?

These companies are complementing and replacing (in some cases) the existing education systems models and dynamics, using the ever-growing resources that the digital era is making available and continued increase in access to the Internet.


In-person traditional learning has a great number of benefits but it also represents limitations, the obvious one the physical need to be present, and the fact that knowledge was limited to being able to be there or move somewhere. What started with complementing in-person learning, has become a revolution that has reduced learning barriers and has increased the accessibility of learning resources across the world. This has a larger impact on better education and more opportunities available for more people.


However, EdTech unicorns, not only revolutionized learning but are also revolutionizing the way in which companies are structured and how they developed. For example, ex-EdTech Unicorn Coursera recently declared that it was going public in the NY stock exchange market only 9 years after being founded. The growth that the EdTech unciorns have experienced, the funding that they have received, and the way in which they move through funding rounds (some of them having two funding rounds within 12 months) are new and exciting. More than only growth, these companies are giants in a relatively new industry that keeps evolving, and they, as the bigger players, are the ones to set benchmarks. The EdTech unicorns are living proof of the power of EdTech, its growing market, and its importance.


Who are these EdTech Unicorns?

There are currently 22 EdTech unicorns as listed by Holon IQ. HolonIQ divides them into clusters, however, for this series we will be dividing them into the following groups:


  1. Tutoring – Yuanfudao (China), ByJu’s (India), Zuoyebang (China), Zhangmen (China), and Knowbox (China).
    • These companies offer live tutoring sessions with experts through their platforms and complement these services with study guides, resources, practice exercises, and exams.
  2. Language learning – VIPKid (China), Duolingo (United States), iTutorGroup (China)
    • These companies facilitate language learning through their platforms with dynamic exercises and games.
  3. Post Secondary Training – Udemy (United States), Udacity (United States), Hulke (China). Degreed (United States), Yunxuetang (China).
    • These unicorns focus on post-secondary training courses, offering university-like courses for upskilling the workforce.
  4. Education Matchmaking – Applyboard (Canada) and Guild Education (United States)
    • In a few words, they offer a match-making place (much more than that, but just to put it in a few words) where people seeking educational opportunities can find them, along with guidance on how to apply for these opportunities.
  5. MOOCs – Udemy (United States), UnAcademy (India), Udacity (United States), and ex-Unicorn Coursera (United States).
    • Companies that offer Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) through their platform.
  6. Test Prep – Quizlet (United States), Coursehero (United States), Newsela (United States)
    • Softwares that offer test preparation tools for teachers and students-
  7. Online Curriculum – Age of Learning (United States), HuJiang (China)
    • Online curriculum solutions for specific educational systems.
  8. Alternative Learning – Outschool (United States)
    • Learning solutions for alternative learning models.


As we can see, most of them are bred in China and the United States; however, larger markets such as India and Canada have representatives in this list.


As mentioned before, these Unicorns are solving specific needs that were present during in-person learning, and more than just creating solutions to complement traditional learning, these companies are reinventing learning. Across companies, these are the general patterns that we observe:


  • Combining core with diversified offerings over time. These unicorns have grown, developed new products, and complemented their offerings, however, none of them have changed the essence that first made them stand out.
  • Offering both B2B & B2C monetization strategies. All of the unicorms have evolved to offer both a B2C and a B2B selling structure.
  • Freemium for the win with premium for the cash. The dominant pricing strategy is the Freemium model with a premium subscription that gives access to special features and special on-demand content.
  • On-demand content is the way to go. You either have it, or you don’t belong to this list.
  • Finally, all unicorns regardless of their focus, show heavy investment in Adaptive Learning through Artificial Intelligence/Data Analytics and the use of algorithms that are used on every platform. All of this with the objective of creating personalized learning experiences.


Perhaps the biggest overall conclusion is the incredible growth in the market for educational technology solutions, which at the same time, shows the ongoing shift from traditional in-person learning systems to newer systems that are based on technology. Education is moving from content safeguarding and one size fits all approaches to personalized learning experiences and always-available, easy-to-access knowledge.


Join us for the rest of the blog series where we take a deep dive into the different groups and the story they have to tell. Next up: Tutoring EdTech Unicorns.


Are you ready to experience the future of education and the many benefits of adaptive learning?

Try out CanopyLAB’s intelligent, adaptive, and social learning space and give your team and students a personalized learning experience that will leave them curious for more.