Is Upgrad an Upgrade of Online Learning?

Online learning is hardly a new thing. But new startups entering this space continue to be news. I saw a mention of one recently that is based in India - a market I know almost nothing about. Apparently, it is an extremely fragmented space in India. The first article I read lists test prep startups that I have never heard of (Toppr, Embibe, Plancess) and e-learning startups (Edukart, Simplilearn,, Purple Squirrel Eduventures) that I also have never encountered. 

I know from my MOOC work that India is a big user of MOOCs, so the country is a bubbling ecosystem for startups who want to be the next one to disrupt the online education space.

The newest one I have encountered comes from a media mogul with money to venture named Ronnie Screwvala. He is a serial entrepreneur and this latest shot is new enough to not appear yet on his LinkedIn page.

In January 2015, he announced his plans to launch an online company focused on higher education, called U Education. Then, he said the two biggest challenges he saw were a lack of credibility attached to online learning and also employment generation post degrees.

logoThat venture seems to have evolved into UpGrad which launched its first course. Appropriate to Screwvala, it is on entrepreneurship. The 15 week program received 1,600 applications, out of which 500 have been shortlisted.

There is an interesting payment model. The course is priced at $754 and about 100 of these participants have prepaid the course amount. But the first three weeks of the course are being offered to all 500 for free, and interested applicants from the remaining 400 will have an option of paying the amount after the end of three weeks. Test-drive the course.

The course description on the website will not surprise anyone who has taught online: "StartUp with UpGrad - 15-week rigorous online entrepreneurship program providing you with the clarity of thought for your entrepreneurial journey through live lectures, case studies, group assignments, guidance and insights from India’s leading entrepreneurs."

An "angel" investing website describes UpGrad this way: "UpGrad empowers professionals to reach their full potential through rigorous online programs, taught and developed by the world-class faculty and industry. UpGrad is a new education technology company focused on bringing quality online programs for working professionals in India and over time, in rest of Asia in new industries such as Big Data Analytics and E-commerce. The founding team comprises IIT and ISB alumni and we are backed by Ronnie Screwvala (founder of UTV) with a $16M committed capital."

And the site also includes this dig at higher education (apparently written by the UpGrad team): "The university system has not kept with the changing needs of the industry. Our approach is to significantly leverage technology to offer flexible, adaptive and personalised higher degree/ diploma education and to bring the academic rigour from our partnerships with Universities and industry relevant expertise from our partnership with corporates."

Is UpGrad an upgrade on what is already happening in the online learning space?


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