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H1 2020 at a Glance: China's Online Education Industry Boom
COVID-19 and China
Online education is the future. Image credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Businesses in many physical industries have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the catastrophe has also provided new opportunities for the development of many online industries, as well – one of which is the online education industry.

China's online education market has maintained steady growth over the past five years. The COVID-19 epidemic in 2020 has brought new vitality as it boosted demand. It is expected that China's online education users will reach 309 million by the end of 2020.

Due to traditional face to face education coming to a halt at the start of the year, online education has witnessed an explosive growth. Students from all over the country started online classes at home. Some of the leading K12 online education firms took the opportunity to announce the provision of free courses during the outbreak, allowing them to gain a maximum number of users. 

Talking about K12 online education firms, Yuanfudao set a new record with a staggering USD 1 billion financings in March. Following that, Zuoyuebang, another online education firm, nabbed USD 750 million for its series E round, becoming the second-highest valued edtech unicorn in China. 

From celebrity endorsements, naming various popular online variety shows to placing small video ads on Douyin, Zuoyebang, Yuanfudao, Youdao and other head K12 online institutions have been working hard to prepare ample ‘ammunition’ to meet the upcoming summer enrollment season.

Other than K12, vocational and quality education tracks saw their popularity increase with Tencent and 58 other firms investing in related companies.

Let's use the data to see what was happening in the domestic education venture capital market throughout the first half of the year.

According to statistics collected by EqualOcean from ITJuzi, in the first half of 2020, there are 10,640 companies in the field of Education. Of these, 60% had no investment, 28% were invested in and the investment question is not clear about the remaining 12%.

In the industry, the angel round stage accounted for the largest proportion of 37%, followed by the A round stage, accounting for 31%.

As can be seen, a large number of companies are still in a very early stage, because it is a result-oriented industry. The product's effectiveness needs to be verified and observed over a long period of time. 

As 2019 broke, we were all warned of China’s forthcoming ‘capital winter’, only to wake up in Q1 to mega-rounds from Zhangmen (USD 350 million), DaDa (USD 255 million), Andela (USD 100 million) and opening Q2 was Coursera’s USD 103 million Series E. 2H 2019 saw the surge continue with mega-rounds from Knowbox (USD 150 million), ByJu’s (USD 150 million), VIPKid (USD 150 million), Zhihu (USD 434 million), Ruangguru (USD 150 million) and Guild (USD 157 million).

Little did we know what 2020 would bring. COVID-19 and way too many video calls later, 1H 2020 has marked a resurgence in mega-rounds, averaging a USD 100 million round per month. In the space of six months, EdTech has it’s very own giant (that didn’t come from China or the US), Yuanfudao has set a new high water-mark with a USD 1 billion round and ‘mainstream’ investors are venturing to learn more about the future of education, the role of technology and the opportunities to participate in that growth.

In the first half of 2020, 112 investment events occurred in the Chinese education industry;, the number of transactions fell by 32% month-on-month and 45% year-on-year. The total amount involved was CNY 19.6 billion, an increase of 15% year-on-year. ; The decline in the number of financings in the field is obvious, but the total amount of financing has risen, and the average amount of single financing has also increased by 77% year-on-year to CNY 175 million.

Over the past three years, the activity of CNY funds in the field of education investment and financing has been significantly higher than that of USD funds. The number of CNY transactions accounted for more than 90%, and the transaction finance accounted for about 55%~62%; but in the first half of 2020, the total amount of CNY transactions substantially declined and the total amount of USD transactions exceeded CNY transactions for the first time, accounting for 77%.

Talking about the amount of funding in the first half of 2020, out of the 112 investment events, the largest number of transactions were in tens of millions of yuan. 19 firms raised more than CNY 100 million, with a total financing amount of CNY 15.7 billion, accounting for 80% of the total financing.

Now we should dig deeper into the firms which actually boosted their financings in the first half of 2020. We have short-listed the top 10 education firms with the highest amount of funding raised. These firms are backed by the likes of huge investors such as Tencent, IDG, Sequoia, Temasek etc. 

As far as the sub-sectors are concerned, quality education dominated the number of financings with 26, which only totaled CNY 1.3 billion. K12 education showed its dominance, with 18 investment events adding up to CNY 12.4 billion. 

As the largest subdivision track in the field, K12 Education has always attracted capital. In the first half of 2020, K12 Education’s financing amount accounted for 60% of the entire industry. Yuanfudao’s new round, worth USD 1 billion, was the main reason behind it. It was followed by the highest single amount of financing in the field; in June, the Zuoyebang completed its E round of financing, worth USD 750 million. 

Other than that, listed Chinese edtech companies have shown their strengths as well. NetEase Youdao released its Q1 unaudited financial report which showed the firm has achieved a steady growth for a fifth consecutive quarter. Another US-listed firm, GSX Techedu, has been a hot topic. Its financial results have been found too good to be true for some US research firms. The Chinese online tutoring company has been shorted as many as 10 times in the first half of the year but the stock is showing no signs of weakness – instead, recently it hit the highest ever amount since it was listed. 

With Edtech companies such as Yuanfudao (猿辅导), Zuoyebang (作业帮) and Xueba (学霸君) suddenly catching the limelight and seeing this as an opportunity, major Internet companies have stepped up their efforts in the online education track as well. 

Alibaba (BABA: NYSE) launched a product called 帮帮答, directly translated to ‘help me answer.’ It is a paid question and answer platform for primary and secondary school students for academic problems. This is the first independent product launched by Alibaba in the field of education.

Zhang Yiming, the founder of the world’s most valued unicorn, ByteDance, expressed his intention to consider and plan for a new strategic direction towards education in a letter released on the eighth anniversary of the company.

“The online tutoring market has been very hot recently, and many people ask about my company's business progress. In fact, I am not anxious and have patience. I think it is still very early. The education business must have more fundamental innovations, of course, provided we have a deeper understanding. Especially for a company that already has a successful business, starting a new business is not easy. Bold attempts in new fields are an important part of starting a business.” Zhang said.

It is evident that the epidemic has created a window of opportunity for huge tech giants to enter the education industry – but at the same time firms which are already are in the business have stepped up to prove the strength and advantages of online education. By providing free online classes, companies such as Yuanfudao, GSX Techedu and Zuoyebang gained millions of users.

Editor: Luke Sheehan

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