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Ziplines Education, Formerly GreenFig, Raises $6.4 Million Series A

By Derek Newton
Reposted from Forbes, with permission

Way back in 2020, I wrote a profile of Sara Leoni and her innovative education business, GreenFig.

Then, I wrote, “What they teach is different, how they do it stands out and their business model may be the way forward for a host of education providers struggling to find their place in the market.”

Without bragging too much, that appears to be trending true. And others agree.

This morning, Ziplines Education – the new name of GreenFig – announced a significant Series A investment round of $6.4 million.

It’s an impressive number for most any Series A, but for education market investing, which has been suppressed over the past few years, $6.4 million is a spotlight figure. The investment, led by Jackson Square Ventures in California, is an endorsement for both founder and foundational idea.

That idea is, from the 2020 coverage, working with colleges to provide “programs in areas such as Digital Marketing Science, Customer Success and Sales Operations, programs heavy in tech but not tech.” Ziplines describes their courses and programs as helping “higher education bridge the digital skills gap by offering turnkey, professional certificate courses for in-demand tech-adjacent careers.” The plan is to be the engine behind these types of courses and programs offered by colleges, not to compete with them.

Undeniably, technology is moving at a breakneck speed, much faster than companies can keep their employees trained. As a result, workers are seeking opportunities to upskill and reskill to earn new digital skills so they can keep pace with the changing trends, making themselves indispensable to employers,” Leoni said. “AI has only further accelerated the importance of tech-adjacent skills — one in four jobs is expected to change in the next five years — and through our highly collaborative university partnerships, we’re able to help those people gain in-demand skills, experience, and recognizable credentials so they can pursue and navigate their desired career path with confidence,” she said.

The new capital includes new participation from previous investors including Wildcat Venture Partners and WGU Labs, the cutting-edge investment and growth vehicle for education innovators from Western Governors University. The announcement of the Series A says that the company will use the money to “expand its team, develop proprietary technology products, and strengthen partnerships with universities.”

Greg Gretsch, Managing Director of Jackson Square Ventures, who will join the Ziplines Board said, “We’re excited to see Ziplines scale their catalog and capabilities, double down on their university partnerships, and further invest in their industry-leading outcomes. Given the surging demand for short-term, high-impact credentials, Ziplines is capitalizing on a huge market opportunity, while creating meaningful progress for professionals pursuing the careers they’ve always wanted.”

Leoni’s background and leadership aside, the investment is a major signal about where the betting money is going in higher education – fast track, high impact, career training. That’s not necessarily new. It’s become a highly predictable development for promising education companies to pivot to workforce training, where the acquisition process is easier and the pockets deeper. The difference is that Leoni and Ziplines started there, building the foundation of the business at the crossroads of college and career.

As more headlines pressure colleges to offer more career-aligned offerings, Leoni and Ziplines are, unsurprisingly, in the right place at the right time.

The company also says that schools such as University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies, Texas Tech University, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte have all signed on to their approach and offer their “tech-adjacent” certifications.

The fundraising announcement teased more college and university partnerships coming along soon, which would not be surprising. Very many institutions of higher education have their eyes locked on short term, career-rich programs – especially when those programs are closely stitched to hiring leaders in industry. And the data show that these programs are growing in enrollments and in funding.

In other words, if you’re betting on the future of these kinds of education services, as these investors clearly have, the timing feels pretty right. And if you’re betting on the future of Ziplines, or on that of Leoni, that feels pretty right too. It’s probably just a matter of time before you’re reading about the nine or ten-figure exit in these pages. I would not bet against her, or her idea. Clearly, others agree.

Originally posted on Forbes February 21, 2024