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Professional development and entrepreneurship education- insights and market map

Updated: Dec 1, 2021


For further analysis on this subject, you can read our article on TechCrunch.

1. Introduction

The skills gap and mismatches have been widely documented- the OECD estimated in 2019 that at least 80m workers in Europe are mismatched in terms of their qualifications and what’s demanded in the workforce, across a wide range of industries.

It’s therefore unsurprising that we are in the throes of the rapid unbundling and democratisation of skills education and networks.

A key part of this unbundling is the ease with which like-minded professionals can receive training, coaching and mentoring and network and participate in communities. LinkedIn remains the dominant meta network for professionals (if you undertake a cohort-based bootcamp or other educational programme, you will likely also add your colleagues on Linkedin!), but the relevance of connections and content in day-to-day personal development is waning. If I am a product manager, for example, I would look outside of the platform for the most relevant personal development programmes and communities. The same is true in most other roles, particularly in tech, where traditional education programmes have not yet caught up with the skills demanded by employers. And even where they have, there are cheaper, more flexible alternatives available, particularly in the higher education and consumer learning spheres. For example, it can be significantly cheaper for an aspiring software engineer to undertake a bootcamp, particularly if delivery is primarily digital. Further, because of providers’ often narrower subject-focus, they are also likely to have better connections to industry than traditional education providers, as well as more flexible and creative means of payment, such as income share agreements.

This is all made possible by employers recognising the equivalence and in places, superiority, of bootcamps and other courses. This is usually because the skills delivered in bootcamps are directly relevant and applicable to roles.

As these courses have developed, there has been a growing realisation that networking benefits are a key attractor to courses, including those that are digital-only. This is primarily the case for courses aimed at young, ambitious professionals, seeking to both build their expertise and meet like-minded individuals, with whom they can share experiences, content, connections and progress.

Quality content and communities of course need to be managed by excellent tutors and mentors. Given the varied personalisation of this provision, some of which is live and other parts on-demand, there exists a sizeable gap for mentoring and coaching, beyond the time-limited programmes provided in bootcamps and other courses. For example, once a company is through an accelerator or incubator, engagement with the community and mentors reduces significantly. This can’t easily be provided by colleagues in the same communities- there is a difference between a colleague and mentor!

It’s therefore unsurprising that we are seeing a rising tide of coaching and mentoring services. The market for coaching and mentoring within companies is increasingly congested, given the rise of Coachhub, Sharpest, BetterUp and others. But the market for individual coaching and mentoring, sourced by the individual, is less developed.

2. The market analysis

This analysis provides an intentionally broad view of the market. It allows us to consider all types of organisations supporting individuals to progress their careers, with a particular focus on organisations supporting individuals to start their own businesses via coaching, mentoring and community plays.

Accordingly, we include accelerators and incubators, 1:1 mentoring platforms and bootcamps seeking to help individuals find their feet and achieve their career and business goals.

All of the organisations we have considered are part of a long-developing trend on the democratisation of role (professional), entrepreneurship and business education. As such, there is significant diversity in the way that courses, content or access details are funded and paid for. We attempt to cover this diversity in the analysis below.

3. The market map:

Given the breadth of the subjects and roles covered, we did not attempt to include all of the relevant companies in the most congested or general categories, particularly in the ‘training for specific roles’ section. Instead, we focused on the structure of the market. We have for indicative purposes, however, included total funding (including IPO) for the companies included in each of the categories, where suitable and available.

We created a simple matrix with two axes:

1. Professional development (‘get a job’) -> Entrepreneurship (‘start a business’)

Companies towards the professional development end of the spectrum include companies we consider ‘role-specific connections/ community’, ‘role-specific mentoring’, ‘training for specific roles’, ‘career mentoring’ and ‘community-driven courses’.

Companies towards the entrepreneurship end of the spectrum include ‘business mentoring’, ‘business bootcamps’ ‘accelerators and incubators’ and ‘entrepreneur resources and supporting services’.

2. Synchronous -> asynchronous

This axis spans companies providing live and community-driven offers, to companies providing pre-recorded and on-demand services.

The majority of the companies and categories we include within the map sit within, or at least cross into the synchronous side of the matrix.

Companies spanning both include ‘online educational courses’ and ‘digital MBA and business courses’.

A brief line on each of the categories outlined above:

1. Role-specific connections/ community

These companies focus on connecting like-minded professionals with expert mentors, coaches and peers within their specific, or a closely-related field.

2. Role-specific mentoring

These companies focus on upskilling individuals within companies via mentoring programmes tailored to their individual needs and role requirements.

3. Training for specific roles

These companies provide training, sometimes via bootcamps and other courses, targeting specific roles or business functions, such as sales and development, coding, product, etc.

4. Career mentoring

These companies typically work with companies to provide mentorship and tailored development to their employees, across a range of functions.

5. Community-driven courses

These companies provide a platform onto and via which experts can create learning programmes and cohorts, covering a range of personal career development topics.

6. Online educational courses

These companies provide typically static, content-driven education courses on a range of areas. They are rarely personalised, but tend to be accredited by traditional education providers, like universities.

7. Digital MBA and business courses

These companies provide a blend of synchronous and asynchronous business education content, with community elements, but typically take place remotely. These companies typically charge $800-$15,000 depending on the degree of personalisation and therefore the cost of provision to the provider.

8. Business bootcamps

These companies provide live, relatively short (circa. 3 months), typically quite exclusive courses, focused on a mix of content and community elements.

9. Business/ entrepreneur mentoring

These companies match business mentors to entrepreneur mentees to help them accelerate their growth and development, with a range of innovative payment models.

10. Accelerators and incubators

These companies typically provide a blend of content, community, mentoring and funding to early stage founders. They are typically quite exclusive and therefore create a brand that entrepreneurs like to utilise in their communities and with other stakeholders including investors.

11. Entrepreneur resources and supporting services

These companies, typically large internet and related services or software companies provide a range of resources and entrepreneur-friendly services to help founders and early-stage businesses get off the ground.

4. Avenues of differentiation:

We now turn to highlight the 6 key avenues of differentiation within offers:

1. Purpose: Professional development (‘get a job’) -> Entrepreneurship (‘start a business’)

Companies featured in the map typically have a range of focuses, as set out in the axis explanation.

2. Costs: fees -> equity

Companies featured in the map typically utilise one of the following four payment options:

  • Income share agreements (ISA) - typically a contract between the student and the education organisation, enabling students to avoid loans in return for a percentage of their salary for a set amount of time.

  • Equity models- similar to the ISA, given delayed payment and services/ training provided in return for a stake in the ‘student’s’ business/ career moves.

  • Monthly/ annual membership fees- a relatively simple and straightforward subscription model which the student can leave with agreed notice.

  • Course fees- a straightforward payment for entry to the community or course. The payment amount typically varies by the extent of personalisation in the course and therefore the time dedicated to them individually.

3. Offer: Content -> mentorship

Companies featured in the map typically provide a range of products and services to their users and communities, which can broadly be divided into four categories:

  • Course content- educational content, either intended to simply upskill or retrain an individual, or providing an accreditation to certify completion/ a given level of competence.

  • Coaching and mentorship- individual or one:group coaching and mentorship, perhaps relating to a specific role within a business, an individual looking to improve their career prospects or a founder looking to improve their business.

  • Community access- connecting like-minded individuals with similar interests and priorities to help them all level up their careers and personal prospects.

  • Funding and wider resources- supporting individuals, founders and young companies with finances and wider services to accelerate their growth.

4. Delivery: synchronous (live + community) -> asynchronous (pre-recorded + on demand)

Companies provide a range of operating formats, depending on the offer and the nature of the content and community. Live content is more expensive to deliver, but typically more engaging given greater interactivity. Within communities, the most meaningful engagements are live, such as in mentoring, coaching and networking sessions. Delivery formats include:

  • Live online

  • Live in-person

  • On demand video

  • On demand written content

5. Outcomes: informal -> formal accreditation

Companies provide a range of course or service outcomes, usually depending on the objectives of the course- whether it is to help people to find jobs or whether it is to help people further their careers via mentoring or alternative services.

  • Informal ad-hoc coaching- coaching and mentoring where guidance is the main service exchanged.

  • Guidance and mentoring towards training objective- training that can lead individuals towards a given accreditation or expertise.

  • Membership/ association with organisation- membership or association with a given provider can hold significant value and serve as a qualification, usually reflecting the prestige of the provider and programme.

  • Formal qualification- bootcamps, on demand education courses and digital MBAs and business courses can offer formal, accredited qualifications.

6. Length of engagement: finite course -> continual membership

The length of the engagement typically depends on the desired end goal and how closely the offer is tied to a set curricula and specific outcome i.e. if a course is intended to help someone get a job, then it tends to be shorter and more intensive while if it’s intended to be a continual source of knowledge and guidance, then of course the engagement will be longer and less intensive. Shorter, more intensive courses tend to be more expensive in the short term for the obvious reason that they’re more expensive to deliver and also because they tend to be delivered by experienced, senior professionals (particularly if delivered synchronously).

5. Overarching trends:

1. Improving access to entrepreneurial and business advice and education

Given the flexibilities enabled in digital models, on payments, delivery and content, it is easier than ever for individuals to access high quality professional and entrepreneurial education and learning. It is no longer the reserve of those able to finance courses and programmes delivered in traditional brick and mortar settings.

2. Continuing focus on community learning via cohorts and shared learning objectives

Content is increasingly complemented by developed community offers, connecting like-minded individuals with shared interests, objectives and networks. This is an incredibly valuable aspect of many of the products and programmes outlined in the market map.

3. Focus on exclusivity via membership schemes and associated services

Companies are creating a sense of exclusivity and prestige around their products and communities, with either highly-selective entry criteria or relatively high membership or subscription costs. As with traditional models, the most expensive offers tend to offer more personalised experiences, with the exception of accelerators and incubators (though of course, some might consider the 5-10% equity model quite expensive!).

6. Our views on the direction of the market:

1. Membership models to become more prevalent

Digital-first cohort-based courses and content are proving popular, as is evident by the rise of OnDeck, Quantic, PowerMBA and wider networking and coaching offers. At present, these courses have an end or completion date after which formal programme engagement ends. We expect to see a range of membership organisations form in this space, either led by the initial course provider or by new subject-specific or theme-specific organisations.

2. Broadening of training, coaching and mentorship as a company perk.

Several of our points thus far have related to the democratisation of quality professional learning and entrepreneurship education and guidance. We expect function-specific mentoring and coaching to become a common perk for company employees. Previously the reserve of senior employees, we expect mentoring and coaching to be offered to employees at increasingly junior levels. Given the range of payment options available, we expect it to be increasingly common that employees retrospectively cover the training/ qualification fees of individuals who’ve completed bootcamp-type programmes. This could include retrospective payment in places, particularly for joiners from the most prestigious training providers.

3. Skill-specific mentoring to develop, likely an extension of offers from existing bootcamps and training companies.

One of the least congested market segments surrounds role- or skill-specific mentoring. Generalist coaching and mentoring providers/ platforms work well if your intention is general, employee-wide coaching and personal development (typically paid for by employers), but this offer is less personalised and function-focused than it could be, as evidenced by the rise of players focused on coaching specific business functions. One of the ways we expect this to be addressed is via a range of new mentoring services to be offered likely by bootcamp and other training providers. This could serve to extend engagement with individuals and organisations beyond the initial training/ bootcamp period.

4. Democratisation of access to high quality mentoring for individuals via both network access and means of ‘payment’

We expect further democratisation of access to high quality mentoring, made increasingly possible (and popular) due to delayed, often outcomes-related payment schemes. Examples include equity models and income share agreements. It is becoming easier for individuals to find and work with mentors with increasingly specific skill sets and expertise. The range of subjects/ areas for which mentoring is available is broadening significantly. All of this means that quality mentoring and coaching and personalised guidance is increasingly accessible. We can therefore expect younger and younger professionals to be receiving quality mentoring, deepening the addressable market. This will likely be tied to both employers and individuals, so that when individuals move between organisations, they are able to continue their engagement with their mentor, if terms are agreed.


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