As the world’s biggest Internet market, China is an alluring prospect for U.S. tech firms, including edtech players. China-based edtech companies raked in more than $1 billion in investment in 2015, or 37 percent of global funding for the year. Asia has the world’s highest regional growth rate for e-learning, and an e-learning market projected to be worth $12.1 billion by 2018. At Coursera, we’ve seen registered users in China climb by more than 500 percent between 2013 and 2016, crossing the one million mark in 2015. Still, companies looking to do business in China face a “tangle of issues.”
The hurdles? U.S. edtech companies can expect to confront special regulatory and infrastructure challenges in China, in addition to having to adapt content and design. And the landscape is increasingly crowded. When Coursera partnered with Guokr in 2013, we were featured with only a few other partners. Now, Guokr lists over 45 platforms. And new platforms mean more content. The Chinese Ministry of Education is encouraging the growth of local MOOCs, with a policy that sets targets of 1,000 from Chinese universities by 2017 and 3,000 by 2020.
So, based on the experiences of Coursera and other companies, what are some lessons for edtech startups looking to grow in China?
Find the right partners.
Business in China is notoriously relationship-driven. The right partnerships can help American edtech companies distribute, translate and localize their content; develop native content; and—importantly for companies looking to operate in China—offer political protection.