Enter Qureos, an education technology start-up based in the United Arab Emirates, which is today announcing a $3 million pre-seed funding round. “Our ambition is to accelerate 100 million careers,” says co-founder Alexander Epure, who pitches the concept as “learn to earn”.
Qureos has started out with a focus on three areas of skills in particularly high demand with employers: product management, digital marketing and data analytics. In each of these areas, it offers “learning paths”, comprising of a range of short courses that learners can undertake; each one typically requires four to five hours of work over five days or so.
The courses are delivered by mentors that Qureos has recruited from private sector leaders such as Google, Paypal, Amazon and Cisco, who deliver learning tailored to the skills they know employees need to develop. Each learner completes the course through project work around a case study, which the Qureos team grades; once they’ve done that, they are entitled to progress through to the jobs side of the platform, where employers recruit for full-time staff and contractors.
It’s a win-win set-up for employees and employers alike, argues Epure. “Learning and hiring are disconnected,” he says. “Qureos aims to leverage its unique position at the nexus of these two markets through an experiential learning community where emerging talent can learn from industry experts and gain experience through mentor-led hiring cohorts from businesses.”
Students, or “apprentices” as Qureos calls them, acquire exactly the skills that employers want – because the course content is delivered by mentors from those employers – as well as the opportunity to monetise their education immediately. Employers, meanwhile, get access to a pool of talent with specific skills, with Qureos helping them streamline the application process, substantially reducing their time and cost to hire.
Qureos isn’t the only edtech company betting that it can deliver training and learning online, but Epure argues most video-based courses suffer from very low completion rates. By contrast, he says, Qureos’s combination of project-based work and tailored teaching from specialist mentors has seen completion rates above 75%. “The learning that our apprentices acquire is six times what they’d get just from watching videos,” he says. “Their job success rates, whether through Qureos or outside, are twice as high.”
As for Qureos’s own prospects of success, its business model is built on two constituencies. Apprentices pay a fee to take its courses – the average cost is around $20, though learners in developing economies typically pay reduced fees. In addition, businesses recruiting through the platform pay a subscription charge for access to the talent pool.
In the end, of course, that model will stand or fall on the company’s ability to attract large numbers of students and to prove to employers that they are equipping them with the right skills. Qureos’ lofty ambition to kickstart 100 million careers reflects the business’s origins as a passion play for its founders, who are focused on social outcomes as well as commercial success.
Still, the business is off to a strong start. Founded only last August, it has already recruited 25,000 apprentices from more than 120 countries worldwide – two-thirds of whom have taken more than one course – as well as mentors from more than 40 companies. Each mentor is paid a fee for their work with the platform, though Qureos says many are more focused on the desire to give something back to their industries and societies.
This rapid rate of growth underpins the interest of a broad range of investors in the business, which started life as part of the Dubai Future Accelerators programme. The pre-seed round announced today is led by two early-stage venture capital firms, Dubai-based COTU Ventures and New York-based Colle Capital. But the round also saw participation from global and regional investors, including Globivest, Plutus21 Capital, Dubai Angel Investors and AlZayani Venture Capital, as well as a number of prominent angel investors.
Mehrad Yaghmai, another Qureos co-founder, argues that the platform can level the playing field as young people compete in the global jobs market. “We want to democratise access to the labour market,” he says. “I see a world where there are no boundaries and just one map for employers.”
Usama Nini, the third member of the Qureos founding team, points to the value of education delivered by specialist mentors. “There’s that old adage that those who can do, and those that can’t teach,” he says. “We want to turn that on its head.”