SoftBank Backs Online Higher Education Venture

Soon after SoftBank Capital saw unprecedented earnings in the Alibaba public offering, the company went back into investing in the early stage market in fall of 2014. When they did, they dove right in with a $6 million investment into the new online education company, EdCast, which was founded by the well-known entrepreneur, Karl Mehta. High level investors with connections to SoftBank, like Mukesh Valabhji, a board member of Softbank PrinceVille Investments (whose major investor is SoftBank), are excited about the new partnership. To learn more about Mukesh and his connections to SoftBank, go to his About.me page.

This particular investment marks the second time that SoftBank has invested into one of Mehta’s many startup companies, though the previous time it was in a much different arena. The last company of Mehta’s that SoftBank invested into was PlaySpan, which manages virtual currency systems. It was later sold for $240 million to Visa Corp., which proves it was a strong investment.

mukesh valabhji

SoftBank was not alone in its investment of Mehta’s latest business venture. In fact, they went in along with other known companies, including Menlo Ventures, Mitch Kapor, Novel TMT Ventures, Aaron Capital, Vervin Ventures, NewSchools Venture Fund/CoLab, and finally, Stanford StartX Fund. EdCast was founded in order to transform the online higher education sector.

Mehta’s first attempt at a startup occurred in 1999, when he founded MobileAria. The company prided itself on producing voice-enabled news, including weather, sports, and financial news, over wireless devices. This was a time when the technology sector was soaring, including the emergence of the internet and dot-coms. At that time, a company like MobileAria was highly inventive, and Mehta’s team showed ingenuity in providing internet content onto mobile networks. Mehta suggested that it was a product ahead of the curve.

After its founding, the company partnered and launched with Sprint and Verizon. Subsequently, 9/11 changed the landscape. As a result, the company made a few slight adjustments and shifted into the mobile asset management and mobile tracking arena rather than focusing on business-to-business markets.

After dabbling in mobile content, Mehta shifted his attention to payment networks, just a year after Wireless Matrix purchased MobileAria. Mehta says that his big idea was to offer a platform for virtual currency trading, specifically for online gamers to exchange virtual currencies. According the Mehta, the original idea eventually grew to include a platform for virtual wallets and payment processing. Consequently, his company was known as the largest of its kind. In fact, even before Bitcoin came onto the scene, they were considered the original virtual currency platform.

Now, several years after he sold PlaySpan to Visa Corp, Mehta hopes to dabble in the realm of higher education with his new venture, EdCast. The company is a personal learning network aimed to enhance our ability to collaborate and learn through a variety of channels, including educational materials, students, instructors, and employers. EdCast partners with world-renowned institutions, governments, enterprises, and non-profit organisations to power social, cloud and mobile based learning, which allows millions of students throughout the world to interact with and learn from each other.

EdCast made headlines in the fall of 2014 when it announced that Jeffrey Sachs, an expert in sustainability and economic policy as well as professor at Columbia University and founder of the school’s Earth Institute, was planning to teach a sustainability course in the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for some 250 institutions.

Mehta hopes to continue to push EdCast forward, partnering with educational networks that consist of a growing number of member institutions. In this vein, the company also recently announced that it would work alongside the Open Education Consortium, which includes hundreds of institutions into one network. Some of these include Osaka University, Madrid Polytechnic, The University of Cape Town, Korea University, Delft University of Technology, and Michigan State University.

The company has high market potential, and Mehta hopes that it will become a multi-billion dollar venture. His goal is not to compete with higher education institutions, rather to find new and innovative ways to collaborate with them and introduce them to potential revenue streams. He has a utopian view of education, where anyone can take classes from anywhere in the world at any institution in the world. He says he wants to enhance education, not compete with it or undermine it.

With the help of SoftBank’s investments into the project and their ongoing support from other groups connected to SoftBank, such as SoftBank Princeville Investments, which Mukesh Valabhji has a hand in, EdCast has high potential for success. And this is not the only education venture that SoftBank is invested in. The company has also put resources and energy into Echo260. Therefore, SoftBank understands the power of the industry and the potential it has to revolutionise education for the better. Its involvement with EdCast stands to be an excellent partnership.