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12. Udacity

Lifelong e-learning

Founder: Sebastian Thrun
Launched: 2011
Funding: $163.1 million
Valuation: $1.1 billion
Disrupting: Education
Rival: Coursera

Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity
Source: Udacity
Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity

When Stanford University research professor Sebastian Thrun decided to offer his Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course online for free, back in 2011, he had little expectation that 160,000 students in 190 countries would enroll. But they did, and not long afterward Udacity was born.

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Unlike other e-learning platforms, such as Coursera, which offers courses across a wide variety of topics, Udacity is focused on tech. It partners with leading Silicon Valley companies — Google, Facebook, AT&T, Cloudera and Salesforce, among them — to create and tailor courses, or what the company calls "nanodegrees," that teach the specific skills these employers are looking for.

"We believe if we can give everyone the same access to high-quality higher education, then we will double the world GDP." -Sebastian Thrun, founder and president

The goal, the company says, is to give professionals the knowledge they need to get a new job or advance their career. And it does it for a fraction of the cost of most executive education offerings. Most of Udacity's nanodegrees cost $199 per month and take anywhere from six to 12 months to complete.

With changes happening so quickly in tech, founder and CEO Thrun said learning and skill enhancement is a lifelong endeavor. Today the company has 11,000 students enrolled in its nanodegree programs and is expanding into India and China. The company is also adding new courses that reflect the changing talent needs of its corporate partners. Recent additions are in areas such as machine learning, virtual reality and visual human design. So far, investors like this Silicon Valley-centric approach to tech learning. Heavyweights, including Bertelsmann, Charles River Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, have invested $163 million in Udacity to date.


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