Workera, an upskilling platform geared toward enterprise customers, today announced that it raised $23.5 million in a Series B round led by Jump Capital with participation from existing investors NEA, Owl Ventures, the AI Fund and Sozo Ventures. The company’s CEO, Kian Katanforoosh, says that the fresh capital will be put toward expanding its product offerings and growing the size of its developer team.
Upskilling, or helping employees develop new skills to advance their careers, is increasingly of interest to employers as macroeconomic pressures make recruiting a challenge. According to a 2022 PwC survey, 40% of companies are actively upskilling as they look to automate or enhance work through tech.
VCs have taken note of the opportunity, investing billions into an assortment of companies in the skilling space over the past year. Workera is an unabashed beneficiary of the boom.
“The technology landscape is constantly evolving, and new technologies emerge regularly,” Katanforoosh told TechCrunch in an email interview. “That is why I expect enterprises to increase their spend on upskilling and retaining their employees to build technology skills like AI. The half-life of skills is also the lowest it has ever been, so reinvention is the new norm for employees in the enterprise.”
Before launching Workera, Katanforoosh and Workera’s chairman, Andrew Ng, taught AI classes at Stanford and DeepLearning.ai, Ng’s e-learning venture. (Ng previously led one of Google’s AI research divisions, Google Brain, and briefly served as VP and chief scientist at Baidu.) Katanforoosh says he came to realize that people weren’t starved for upskilling content — quite the contrary — but were instead missing the guidance and mentorship necessary to increase their skills.
“Equitable learning has always been close to my heart as my parents were students during the 1970s revolution in Iran, and were unable to follow through on their educational and career dreams,” Katanforoosh said. “When I began teaching AI at Stanford, I was motivated to research how we can measure people’s skills accurately using modern technologies.”
Workera, which opened for business in 2020, is Katanforoosh’s attempt to put this into practice by measuring skills in the workplace and offering personalized learning. With its product, employees get role- and goal-specific learning plans, while companies have the ability to measure skills and create custom upskilling plans.
That’s no different than many of the skilling platforms on the market, like GrowthSpace, Scaler and 5Mins. But Katanforoosh claims what makes Workera different is its data science-forward approach. Using a “skills dataset” with millions of measurements across over 7,000 skills to train AI algorithms, Workera claims to be able to understand the relationship between skills and measure more skills in less time by inferring whether someone has a skill or not.
“We can measure a small number of carefully selected skills and iteratively update our predictions over an entire graph of skills,” Katanforoosh said. “Today, we can measure roughly 50 skills in one-and-a-half hours and use it to confidently predict between 200 and 500 skills, which is unprecedented.”
Just how accurate those predictions are is another matter, but Workera, regardless, is all-in on AI. The platform uses generative AI (no word if it’s GPT-4) to create questions for skills assessments — they’re vetted by human moderators before they make their way onto the platform, Katanforoosh says. And it also taps AI to summarize information about a skill for users who have just enough proficiency such that a full course wouldn’t make sense.
Later this year, Workera plans to launch a skills and assessment authoring platform embedded with AI tech to automate the process of creating new assessments.
“C-suite leaders have long relied on self-reported methods to analyze the skills of their workforce,” Katanforoosh continued. “Workera disrupts this model of skills intelligence by using AI to generate [richer] skill signals. A richer skill assessment experience with more frequent check-ins gives leaders even better ongoing measurement of their workforce’s skills.”
Katanforoosh wouldn’t reveal the size of Workera’s customer base or annual recurring revenue. But he did disclose that Samsung, Siemens Energy, the U.S. Air Force and Belcorp are among the company’s current crop of clients.
“We’ve been fortunate to secure a sizable capital round amid a difficult environment — largely owing to our success this far and growing roster of Fortune 500 clients,” Katanforoosh said. “The pandemic and the current tech market have forced companies to reassess their operating costs, look internally to develop employees, and fill skill gaps in their business. This climate presents a market opportunity for us to drive increased sales of our precision upskilling solution as enterprises look to intelligently invest in and support their talent.”