Women have made great inroads into the tech world in recent years, but we have a long way to go before we can reach a truly equitable position in workforce numbers, remuneration and product development. an edtech startup called unit academy – which provides training to women in areas such as data science and software development; to give advice; and eventually job coaching — has raised $100 million based on strong growth of its business and ambition to improve that ratio.
The funding will be used to help students finance their unit academy tuition, which typically costs $15,000. it’s coming from Leaf, itself a startup that provides financial services to edtech platforms to offer their students income sharing agreements (otherwise known as ISAs, an arrangement where students pay tuition loans until they find a job does not need to be done).
Entity founder and CEO Jennifer Schwab has built the business with virtually no outside funding since 2016, but said this latest financing is a precursor to the company working on its first, more traditional VC-led equity round.
The unit itself does not create e-learning content, but aggregates online courses in data science, software development, fintech engineering and technology sales into “bootcamp”-style courses from providers ranging from Springboard and Lambda School, which span 24 to 33 week length. Through Columbia University (Universities’ courses are offered as created by the institutions, while others are prepared by the entity for its students).
Its technical play is not related to the unit’s curriculum focused solely on technology; As you might expect in an edtech startup, the entity also relies heavily on the data it has gathered to build its strategy and its business.
That data is based not only on feedback from past and present students and students’ results, but across other channels as well. Its “content arm” Entity Mag has become quite interestingly viral on social media and has over 1.1 million followers on Instagram and Facebook, becoming another major channel for engagement (not to mention future students). For).
The institution uses all of these to determine not only what courses it offers and what goes into the curriculum, but also how to complement that learning. Today, Entity courses include targeted mentoring from people working in the tech industry, as well as career coaching along the way to finding a job.
As Schwab said in an interview, the sweet spot of the unit is bifurcated.
These are women who are either new (usually 19-23 years of age); Or those returning fresh or rethinking their careers (typically aged 30-39, Schwab said). Women from both categories are flocking to the unit because they want to consider technical jobs or more technical promotions, but they lack the expertise to do so. Most likely, they studied the humanities or other non-technical subjects in college, and generally don’t have the support to retrain simply to open the door to those more technical roles in their work environment.
Plus there’s a diversity mix among those women, which is also a different kind of challenge for that group, but also a huge boost for the entity to help them tackle it. Some 55% of the 19-23 group are women of color; 62% of the 30-39 group. The entity aims to provide these women with its tools to address all their various challenges related to entering tech jobs, in what it describes as a “wraparound” strategy.
“Many of our students may not have pursued STEM programs in the past,” Schwab said, “so we are building skills from the ground up.”
Some 80% of the students on the courses are taking some funding to pay for them, you can see why the entity is now expanding the means to help them do so.
Since 2016, about 400 students, almost all women, have completed the course. But originally it started as a very short (six-week) program, it was all individual and cost $5,000. Now lasting eight months and with all virtual courses, that costs more and attracts more people. Schwab said another 300 students are undergoing the course, and it is on track to have 1,500 next year.
The development of the entity is associated with larger edtech and “future work” trends. Covid-19 imposed a huge set of expectations on the e-learning industry, with companies building tools to help people remotely suddenly find themselves in unprecedented demand. This was not only because traditional learning environments needed to be virtual, but also because the pandemic prompted so many people – voluntarily or forcefully – to rethink what they were doing with their lives. , and online education was an important way to do something about it. At a time when more could be done.
The entity’s own story fits both of those story lines.
The company was originally started in Los Angeles by Schwab based on her own experiences when she was a consultant to Ernst & Young early in her career.
“My original goal was to change how women think about careers on a global scale. How to better mentor women was the inspiration because when I started at Ernst & Young, I didn’t have female mentors, She recalled. The feeling that “you’re on an island” is bad in itself, she said, but it was a quick development in that advice as well as education and job placement because “we identified these [as other reasons] Why don’t women take up tech careers.”
The company’s first incarnation in 2016 was in LA as a brick-and-mortar learning center in a 1920s building—appropriately enough, formerly a men’s club. It was a compelling sale, due to the short period of learning and being in person, it saw a completion rate of 96% with jobs for over 90% coworkers by the end. “There’s a lot of accountability in the individual,” Schwab said.
The pandemic, of course, took the unit out of that model, but it also became the lever for how it would scale. When it relaunched in 2020 as a virtual event from a new company headquarters in Las Vegas, numbers increased, the company increased the length of courses, and increased tuition to reflect longer engagements.
And yet it also has a downside, with completion rates declining, what Schwab says is a priority for the company to work on improvements.
Program patrons are another aspect of the business that has grown as the move towards virtual. Originally, all mentors were unpaid volunteers who either wanted to help more women move forward in the industry, or more opportunistically use them as a recruitment funnel of exposure to students. That too, is evolving with online engagement.
“We now pay mentors, and we bring in professional moderators to keep mentor-led discussions at a good pace,” Schwab said. He said speakers often donate their fees to scholarships and childcare funds. The Entity Network now has some 250 mentors, some of whom focus on lecturing for groups of students, while others work with them individually, usually in relation to the technical subjects they are studying. Schwab said that number is expected to double to 500 next year.
The job-searching aspect of the role is probably the least developed by far – you can find, in small print, that “Job placement is not guaranteed”, at the bottom of Entity’s website, with the advice that Entity Academy should be a supplement. It is not a substitute for traditional education.
But it also speaks of potential opportunities. In that vein, there are others, like The Mom Project, that are eyeing an opportunity to specifically target the female demographic, talking not only about the huge female gap in the job market, but also The fact that just hasn’t happened much has been made to address it. Thankfully, now that seems to be changing.