Teaching Zenan online marketplace that algorithmically matches schools with the best teachers available has raised £19.3 million ($21 million) in a Series A round of expansion of funding.
Founded in London in 2017, Zen Educate aims to replace the traditional approach to teacher recruitment, which typically involves external agencies and high fees. In addition, working with agencies often involves analogous workflows, with paper-based timesheets and telephone calls are the order of the day.
“Those agencies are incredibly expensive – the average UK education recruiter has a margin of 30 to 35%,” Zen Educate co-founder and CEO Slava Kremerman told businesskinda.com.
By eliminating these expensive middlemen, Zen Educate promises to reduce much of the cost and administrative friction associated with hiring teachers, as well as full-time teachers and teaching assistants, through a self-service platform that allows teachers and schools to create their own profiles.
It’s not completely free, though, as the company says it uses its own proprietary technology to… perform “extensive checks” on teachers during the application process.
The main advantages Zen Educate mentions are that it serves as a natural filter that algorithmically identifies the most suitable teachers based on a set of criteria.
“Instead of just seeing a universe of teachers and then randomly ‘guessing’ who to offer a role to, schools can see a curated list created by a match algorithm that takes into account availability, skills, proximity, role type and previous feedback and many other factors,” said Kremerman.
Schools can also create “favorite” lists of the most qualified teachers so that they can pool the best-performing substitutes based on previous experience, and easily rebook them when the situation requires.
Show me the money
Kremerman said his firm has cracked UK government-reported data on school funding and found that schools spend about £2 billion ($2.2 billion) annually on temporary staff, of which £600 million ($662 million) can be attributed to brokerage costs. And it’s these fees that Zen Educate wants to reduce — but not eliminate altogether.
Indeed, Kremerman says his company charges a smaller markup, about 15-18%, on every hour or day booked through his platform. And it claims to have already saved the UK education sector £10m ($11m) in “wasted recruitment agency fees”.
“There is a spread between what the teacher gets paid and what Zen Educate charges the school – the school saves money and the teacher earns more,” he said.
Until now, Zen Educate has largely served schools in the British cities of London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds, although it was actually soft-launched in the US in March, starting in Minneapolis, where Kremerman says it currently allows for about 7,000 hours of education coverage per month. And with another big change in the bank, it is now well-funded to expand further into the US market later this month, starting with Houston, Texas.
While there have been some tech-focused attempts to counteract the existing agency-based order in the UK, nothing of importance has gained any meaningful appeal. And in the US there are big players like the human capital management platform Primary educationwhich is currently in the process of transferring ownership between two private equity firms as part of a Transaction of $3.7 Billion. Elsewhere, Swing Education is doing something a bit like Zen Educate, but with a specific focus on substitute teachers only.
Whatever competition there is, with an estimated 1.2 million replacement teachers In the US alone, there is more than enough space to house several tech-infused marketplaces that bring teacher and school matchmaking into the 21st century.
“The best metaphor is to imagine you were using Uber, and it only showed you a list of all the taxis in London – but it didn’t tell you if they were still working, if they were available, where they were or which type of car it is,” Kremerman said. “That’s how supply-side education happens now.”
Zen Educate had previously raised around £9.4 million ($10.4 million) in funding in various rounds since its inception, the most recent being a £6.8 million ($7.5 million) Series A round between 2019 and 2020. Now the company is adding a further £19.3m to the pot, bringing total funding to £28.7m, with backers including an edtech-focused VC firm Brighteye Companies, adjectiveAscension Ventures and a whole host of angel investors.
In addition to market expansion, Kremerman said the new cash injection will be used to double the workforce to 200 over the next six months, as well as take over some incumbents in the market.
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