The online education space has seen a tremendous boom amid the pandemic, with companies like Quizlet and Labster raising tens of millions of dollars over the last few months.
Another edtech startup, Interplay Learning, has been making moves too, announcing the close of an $18 million Series B on Wednesday. The round was co-led by Owl Ventures and S3 Ventures.
What makes this Austin-based company different, though, is its focus on skilled trade workers — folks like electricians, plumbers and building maintenance workers.
“The skilled worker has been overlooked, in large part by edtech and the community as a whole,” founder and CEO Doug Donovan told Built In. “Somebody needed to step in and start using some of the innovations that have been happening on the knowledge worker side and the digital skills development side, and bring them to the hands-on workers.”
Interplay Learning does this through its suite of virtual reality and 3D simulation training tools, providing “comersive” learning technology that gives workers the hands-on practice they need to be job-ready in a matter of weeks.
The company’s roots are in the energy efficiency space, providing a way to train energy auditors efficiently without requiring them to go to dozens of locations in person. Then, Donovan says, when he and his team took note of the larger skilled trade worker ecosystem, they realized these industries were in need of similar tools. So, Interplay Learning expanded.
Like a lot of other online education platforms lately, Interplay Learning has seen a tremendous surge in demand over the last year, with usage increasing by nearly 450 percent and year-over-year sales growth exceeding 300 percent. However, Donovan says much of this growth happened many months before the pandemic, and has been brewing over the last several years.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the skills gap for the last three to five years,” Donovan said. “Now, I will say, with COVID we did see an acceleration — our estimate is around 10 percent — among organizations where it did become a catalyst. You know, ‘We’ve been thinking about online learning and now’s the time because, either we don’t have a choice, or we’ve been looking at this for a while anyway.’ They used this as the jumping off point.”
That being said, Donovan doesn’t anticipate this growth in demand to decline anytime soon, mainly because of the newfound importance that has been placed on the skilled trade worker amid the pandemic.
“What’s been interesting during the pandemic is the term ‘essential workers.’ There’s sort of a newfound respect for the folks who are keeping our cars running and our buildings safe and our electricity on,” Donovan said. “To be able to support that on a level that’s never been approached by a technology company over the next few years is really inspiring for our team.”
In the meantime, Interplay Learning plans to use this fresh funding to expand its catalog within its current industries, as well as expand into new areas like big engine repair and telecommunications utility while staying within the electrical and mechanical industrial spaces. The company is also looking to grow its team, Donovan says the plan is to double its current headcount of 60 over the next year.