LinkedIn, founded in 2003, swiftly rose to prominence as the first worldwide professional social media network by making it simple to build and track professional relationships. Y Combinator (YC) and other accelerators formed around the same time as a mainly analog mechanism for entrepreneurs willing to invest three months of their time and 6% of their firm in exchange for en masse training and connections to mentors, colleagues, and funders. While both LinkedIn and Y Combinator are still going strong, a new crop of firms is attempting to bridge the gap between the two approaches by offering organized online experiences that combine training and connections to assist people in achieving their professional goals.
The creation of these organizations is part of a broader trend of professional development democratization, fueled in part by a growing awareness and knowledge of the gap between what traditional educations provides young people and employers require. Indeed, according to the OECD, at least 80 million European workers mismatched in terms of their qualifications and what is required in the labor across a wide range of industries. As a result, it is encouraging that the unbundling process is increasing access to high-quality professional development and education. Lower pricing, shorter courses, and content that more closely related to vocations make it easier for people to retrain and upskill as needed.
Gone are the days when a $50,000-$250,000 MBA was the only way to acquire a great business education, and a $20,000-$300,000 university course was the only way to go into a highly skilled career. Similarly, access to coaching and mentoring at the individual and group levels is improving within this increasingly democratized system. Companies like The PowerMBA, which sells an MBA alternative for $800-$1,000, On Deck, which sells professional development courses and communities for around $3,000, and Dorm, which delivers mentorship support and networks to entrepreneurs for $150 per month, are among the new ways.
What are the similarities and differences between these approaches? In comparison to traditional education courses, they typically digital, not approved by traditional academic institutions, and are shorter, condensed, concentrated, and firmly related to careers and outcomes. Many providers emphasize the “exclusivity” and “focus” of their communities in their communications and marketing.
In addition, there will almost always be some content related with the courses — the amount will mostly depend on the course’s and offer’s objectives (i.e., content is shared, but not the central offers of most accelerators, incubators and mentoring providers). With this in mind, Brighteye Ventures built a market map of the various organizations that assist people in furthering their professional education, with a focus on business and entrepreneurship education. It not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to highlight the diverse spectrum of organizations that operate in the space. Where appropriate and available, we have given total funding (including IPO) for the companies in each of the categories for illustration purposes (via PitchBook).