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Education far from crowded; to see more deals

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It's not just Arvind Sodhani, the chief of Intel Capital, who's a big believer in the potential of education in India emerging as a big business in the coming years. Other venture funds such as Lightspeed India, Capital18 and Ojas Venture Partners, to name a few, are keen to invest in a business that might seem getting crowded.

Cyrus Driver, Director, Helix Investments, an India-focused fund, lists three promising parts in the business: school tutorials; IIT JEE (the joint entrance exam to the Indian Institutes of Technology, the country's premier network of engineering schools) and various state and local board exam preparation coaching centres; and vocational and soft skills training, which he describes as the largest segment in the overall business, estimated at some US$40 billion (INR 1.72 trillion) by CLSA Asia Pacific.

Helix Investments made a US$12 million investment in Mumbai-based school tutorial, Mahesh Tutorials Pvt. Ltd late last year, after which the incubatee firm has made acquisitions and expanded its network from Maharashtra to eight other states. Driver says his firm hopes to announce a new deal with an education company by the year-end.

The core market for education services in India, particularly schools and colleges, is highly regulated and intended to be run on a not-for-profit basis, thus keeping venture capitalists (VCs) away. But supplementary and tertiary segments, though fragmented, offer benefits of potential scale in a country where families spend up to 20% of disposable incomes on education.

Last week's Intel Capital funding of education assessment firm Vriti Infocom followed a raft of similar deals earlier. Blackstone Group, New Vernon Private Equity and Deutsche Securities pooled INR 94 crore into Chennai-based e-learning firm Everonn Systems India Ltd in May and earlier this year KPCB (Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers) and Sherpalo Ventures funded education portal StudyPlaces.com. Earlier venture fund rounds in the sector were at Bangalore's TutorVista Global Pvt. Ltd, Mumbai e-learning services firm 24×7 Learning Solutions Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi-based exam preparation tutorial Career Launcher India Ltd, Hurix Systems Pvt. Ltd and Educational Initiatives Pvt. Ltd, among others.

Will there still be more investments in the business? 'There will be lots of deals. This is a fast growing sector with high profit margins,' says Driver of Helix Investments.
Still, the kinds of start-ups likely to get backed in education could be different from the ones that got funded so far. 'We are exploring the segment in education that leverages technology

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