Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet have become standard tools for teachers who have had to conduct lessons remotely since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. But they’re not necessarily apps designed for the classroom, and that fact has opened a niche in the market for those looking for something that better suits the purpose.
Today, a startup called Engageli comes out of the shadows with an app that it believes will meet that need. Engageli is a video conferencing tool designed from the ground up as a digital learning platform that offers a unique view of virtual classrooms. It is initially aimed at higher education, starting with $ 14.5 million in seed funding from Benchmark and others.
If this sounds like a big round of launch for a startup that is still in pilot mode (you can email the company to apply for the pilot), it may be partly because of who is behind Engageli.
The startup is co-founded by Dan Avida, Serge Plotkin, Daphne Koller and Jamie Nacht Farrell. Avida is a general partner at Opus Capital, which has founded (and sold to NetApp) a corporate startup called Decru together with Plotkin, who is himself a professor emeritus at Stanford. Koller is a co-founder of Coursera and an Associate Professor at Stanford University. And Farrell is a former manager of another pair of great online learning companies, Trilogy and 2U.
Avida and Koller happen to be married too, and it was watching their kids last year ̵
“The idea for this started in March when our two daughters were in the ‘Zoom School’. One of them has seen a lot of Netflix and the other has really improved her high scores on a lot of games, ”he said dryly.
The problem, how he and Koller saw it, was that the format wasn’t good enough to get in touch with and reach out to individual students to make sure they were attentive, understood, and actually interested in what was taught.
“The reason teachers and schools use conference systems is because they did,” he said. Based on the team’s collective experience in previous e-learning endeavors in places like Coursera, which built an infrastructure to deliver university courses online to a mass audience, as well as Trilogy and 2U (now a company providing both online learning for universities as well as boat covers) camp), “we thought we could build a better system from scratch.”
Although the idea was inspired by what the couple had seen with their high school kids, Engageli made a decision to focus on higher education first, as that was where the potential client’s greatest interest in piloting the service came. However, Avida also believes that since higher education does not yet have a large market for distance learning, it is a more prominent opportunity.
“The K-12 schools will return to normal at some point,” he said, “but we believe that higher education will be a mix of more and more online learning,” one of the reasons why Likes from Coursera was founded , Trilogy and 2U. “Younger kids need face-to-face contact, but a lot of college students now juggle work, family, and study, and online can be a lot more convenient.”
There’s also a very handy selling point for providing better tools for university classrooms: “People are paying these tuition fees to have access to professors and other students, and this is one way of making that happen in a remote world,” he said.
As it stands now, Engageli enables teachers to create and execute both synchronous (live) and asynchronous (recorded) lessons, so students and teachers can catch up or replace a live lesson if necessary.
The start-up’s idea is also to make the integration into existing workflows as easy as possible: No special desktop or mobile apps need to be installed, as the platform works in all common browsers, and Avida notes that it also works for The integration into the software systems is designed that many universities already use to organize their educational content and to track the progress of the students. (Keeping the barrier to entry low is not a bad idea, considering that many institutions are already using other products, anchoring them more firmly, and increasing the challenges of getting them to migrate to something else.)
But perhaps Engageli’s most unique feature is how it views the virtual classroom.
On the platform, teachers can create “tables” at which students can sit and work together in smaller groups. With tables, the idea is that either an instructor – or, in the case of large classes, as can occur at university seminars, teaching assistants assigned to tables – can interact with students in a more personal way.
When a class is held asynchronously (ie recorded), it means that students seated at a table can still partially participate in a “live” experience where they can talk to others in their groups about work . Tables are also opened before a class starts, and students can switch from one to another to chat with others before class starts.
In addition to the tools that Engageli developed to record and consume lessons, it creates a number of analytics that professors (or their assistants) can use to monitor how good the audio and video are, and for themselves and for themselves Audience and work for yourself as well Gather other types of “engagement” information that may lead people to ask or answer questions, or conduct surveys and other interactive media.
Together, these features provide better feedback to ensure everyone is getting the most out of the remote experience.
Education hasn’t always been one of the liveliest areas in the startups world – it was kind of a boring cousin to more headline-making segments like social media or those rivaling giants like Amazon and Google.
However, the pandemic has put the spotlight on opportunities in this area, both to meet the sudden demand for distance learning tools and to develop more innovative approaches, as Engageli is doing here.
Just yesterday, Kahoot – a platform for building and using gamified learning apps – raised $ 215 million from SoftBank. Recent rounds have included Outschool (which raised $ 45 million and is now profitable), Homer ($ 50 million from an impressive group of strategic supporters), Unacademy ($ 150 million) and the Indian juggernaut Byju ( who last raised $ 500 million) from Silver Lake).
In addition to the recent focus on education, it was also interesting to see how many startups are coming out of the woodworks to create new opportunities for video conferencing.
Last week, a startup called Headroom – also started by successful entrepreneurs – started with an AI-controlled alternative to Zoom and the rest that not only offers automatic transcriptions of conversations, but also automatically generates highlights and insights into the attractiveness of your webinars and other videos Content was real.
Apps like Headroom and Engageli are just the tip of the iceberg. Other innovative approaches are also emerging and raising significant resources. The big question will be whether they are getting a lot of attention and time from potential customers who are already “happy enough” with what they are already using.
But in a tech world that thrives on the concept of disruption and businesses being created by businesses that are simply better approaches to entrenched markets, it’s well worth making a bet.
“Dan, Serge and Daphne have repeatedly built fast-growing, highly successful companies. I’m so happy to work with them again, ”said Alex Balkanski, partner at Benchmark, in a statement. “Investing in an education-related company is incredibly important to me personally, and Engageli has the potential to deliver a truly transformative learning experience.”