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What did VCs study in college?

Although some colleges may offer a major program in business or entrepreneurship, there isn’t exactly a major in venture capital or angel investment.

Crunchbase News has already examined where professional VCs and angel investors went to college (yes, there’s some truth to the Harvard and Stanford stereotypes) and when having an MBA matters in the world of entrepreneurial finance. But we haven’t yet looked at one facet of startup investors’ educational backgrounds: what they studied in college. So that’s what we’re going to dive into today.

To accomplish this, we’re going to use the educational histories from nearly 5,000 VC American and Canadian investment partners (e.g. folks who are employed by and invest on behalf of a venture capital firm) and nearly 8,500 angel investors in Crunchbase. For those with undergraduate degrees (e.g. B.S., B.A., A.B., and all manner of other variations) and majors listed, we then categorized majors into broader fields of study.1

In the chart below, you’ll see a breakdown of professional VCs’ college degrees.

Because startup investors are ostensibly focused on technology companies, the fact that most professional venture capitalists have a background in engineering (electrical, mechanical and industrial engineering mostly, but there are some more niche areas like nuclear engineering represented here) or technical subjects (like information systems and materials science) is predictable.

What might be most interesting here is just how few investment partners majored in formal sciences like math or computer science, ranking lower than the humanities by just a hair.

However, this is not the case with angel investors. The chart below displays the breakdown of college degrees for U.S. and Canadian angel investors. It keeps the same color coding as the chart for VCs’ degrees.

Among individual angel investors who are unaffiliated with a venture capital firm, a background in math and computer sciences is more likely.

There are a number of other fun facts to be found in the data:

  • For both professional VCs and angel investors who studied in the social sciences, economics majors vastly outnumber other disciplines like political science, sociology and psychology.
  • Finance, somewhat unsurprisingly, was the most popular subject for investment partners who majored in a business-related field. Undergraduate degrees in marketing and business administration were also common.
  • A lot of angel investors studied entrepreneurship as undergrads, whereas comparatively few professional VCs formally studied the subject.
  • History was, by far, the most popular subject area in the humanities for both angels and venture capitalists.

So what does all of this tell us? At least by our reading, the academic backgrounds of startup investors is quite diverse. And this would make sense. There isn’t a clear career path to becoming a venture capitalist or to having enough money and enthusiasm to make angel investments.

Our first-blush analysis also suggests that folks who studied computer science, mathematics and statistics are potentially under-represented among professional venture capital investors. Considering that many of the startups in which VCs invest are built around a new computing technology on the software or hardware side, this is a rather weird and inexplicable irony.

If you find yourself in college and want to invest in startups someday, either as a professional VC or as an angel investor, study what you want. There’s going to be a lot of other factors besides your undergraduate major that will land you a position in the field.

Footnotes:

  1. Biology, chemistry and geology degrees are more broadly categorized as “natural sciences.” Math and computer science are “formal sciences.” Political science, economics, psychology and sociology are part of the “social sciences” field.

Duolingo adds new language exercises and revamps its leveling system

Duolingo today launched one of its biggest updates in recent years. The company is introducing a range of new exercise types, as well as a new leveling system that lets you choose between delving deeper into specific skills or learning new content.

When you are building a popular language learning service like Duolingo, you’re inevitably confronted with a problem: Some of your users are really serious about learning a new language and some are just casual users. Finding a balance is hard, even as you try to personalize the experience for every user. But as you add harder content, user engagement goes down and learners drop off.

To counter this, Duolingo is now launching “Crown Levels.” These new levels are part of a redesigned skills tree that gives users a choice between delving into harder content about a specific skill — or moving on to new skills.

The company quietly announced this feature earlier this year and after A/B testing it, decided to launch it to a wider audience now. “Whenever we tried to add harder content in order to teach better, our engagement metrics would go down. Learners would get discouraged and leave the app,” the team explained at the time. “This made it really hard to make any progress on our goal to not just be a fun learning app, but an effective one that really taught you a language well.”

The new tree now allows casual learners to move through the Duolingo skills tree just like before, while advanced learners can dig deeper into the new skills they just learned. Ideally, this means that everybody should be happy now and learn better.

With this update, Duolingo is also introducing a number of new exercise types that focus on listening and pronunciation. Among those is a new set of phonetics exercises around pronouncing specific sounds, as well as a new exercise type that asks you to tap words as you listen to them. Another new exercise focuses less on specific words but instead tests your listening comprehension.

Tencent and education startup Age of Learning bring popular English-learning app ABCmouse to China

Tencent is teaming up with Los Angeles-based education company Age of Learning to launch an English education program for kids in China. ABCmouse, Age of Learning’s flagship product, has been localized and will be available as a website and an iOS and Android app in China, with Tencent handling product development, marketing, sales and customer support.

The new partnership extends Tencent’s involvement in ed-tech, which already includes a strategic investment in VIPKID, an online video tutoring platform that connects Chinese kids with English teachers and competes with QKids and Dada ABC. ABCmouse, on the other hand, uses videos, books and online activities like games, songs and stories to help kids study English.

The Chinese version of ABCmouse includes integration with Tencent’s ubiqutioius messenger and online services platform WeChat, which now has more than one billion users, and its instant messaging service QQ, with 783 million monthly active users. This makes it easier for parents to sign up and pay for ABCmouse, because they can use their WeChat or QQ account and payment information. It also allows families to share kids’ English-learning progress on their news feeds or in chats. For example, Chen says parents can send video or audio recordings of their children practicing English to grandparents, who can then buy gift subscriptions with one click.

Though you probably haven’t heard of it unless you have young kids or work with elementary school-age children, Age of Learning has built a significant presence in online education since it was founded in 2007, thanks mainly to the popularity of ABCmouse in schools, public libraries and Head Start programs. Two years ago, Age of Learning hit unicorn status after raising $150 million at a $1 billion valuation from Iconiq Capital.

Jerry Chen, Age of Learning’s president of Greater China, says there are more than 110 million kids between the ages of three to eight in China and the online English language learning market there is “a several billion dollar market that’s growing rapidly.” He points to a recent study by Chinese research agency Yiou Intelligence that says total spending on online English learning programs for children will be 29.41 billion RMB, or about $4.67 billion, this year, and is projected to reach 79.17 billion, or $12.6 billion, by 2022.

The localization of ABCmouse will extend to the design of its eponymous cartoon rodent, who has a more stylized appearance in China. Lessons include animations featuring an English teacher and students in an international school classroom and begin with listening comprehension and speaking before moving onto phonics, reading and writing. Tencent-Age of Learning products will also include speech recognition tools to help kids hone their English pronunciation.

In an email, Jason Chen, Tencent’s general manager of online education, said that the company “reviewed several companies through an extensive research process, and it became clear that ABCmouse had the most engaging and effective online English self-learning curriculum and content for children. Age of Learning puts learning first, and that commitment to educational excellence made them a perfect fit for our online English language learning business.”

 

Microsoft now offers public courses for building AI skills

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Google equips school buses with WiFi for homework in rural areas

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STEAMRole is like Tinder for mentorship

Providing ongoing mentorship can be impractical for busy professionals. With STEAMRole, the idea is to empower professionals to easily share their stories with students and young professionals.

It’s like Tinder for finding your role model and dream career in science, technology, engineering, art or math, STEAMRole founder and CEO Clarence Wooten told me.

“As the saying goes, you can’t be what you can’t see,” Wooten said.

Similar to Snapchat’s story functionality, students and aspiring professionals can consume inspirational content from role models. For role models, they can post about how their backgrounds, the work they do and how they landed their dream job.

“We want to make it easy for role models to give back and who want to mentor,” Wooten said. “We do it in a way that’s like creating a Snapchat story, and then followers can subscribe to content.”

STEAMRole is also incorporating blockchain technology to incentivize learners to achieve certain skills through its digital currency, RoleCoin. STEAMRole currently has several hundred role models signed up to be notified when it launches.

University of Michigan opens up its M-Air UAV testing facility to students

Companies and students who want to test an autonomous vehicle at the University of Michigan have the excellent Mcity simulated urban environment. But if you wanted to test a drone, your options were extremely limited — think “at night in a deserted lecture hall.” Not anymore: the school has just opened its M-Air facility, essentially a giant netted playground for UAVs and their humans.

It may not look like much to the untrained eye, and certainly enclosing a space with a net is considerably less labor-intensive than building an entire fake town. But the benefits are undeniable.

Excited students at a school like U-M must frequently come up with ideas for drone control systems, autonomous delivery mechanisms, new stabilization algorithms and so on. Testing them isn’t nearly as simple, though: finding a safe, controlled space and time to do it, getting the necessary approvals and, of course, containing the fallout if anything goes wrong — tasks like these could easily overwhelm a few undergrads.

M-Air serves as a collective space that’s easy to access but built from the ground up (or rather, the air down) for safe and easy UAV testing. It’s 80 by 120 feet and five stories tall, with a covered area that can hold 25 people. There are lights and power, of course, and because it’s fully enclosed it technically counts as “indoor” testing, which is much easier to get approval for. For outdoor tests you need special authorization to ensure you won’t be messing with nearby flight paths.

We can test our system as much as we want without fear of it breaking, without fear of hurting other people,” said grad student Matthew Romano in a U-M video. “It really lets us push the boundaries and allows us to really move quickly on iterating and developing the system and testing our algorithms.”

And because it’s outside, students can even test in the lovely Michigan weather.

“With this facility, we can pursue aggressive educational and research flight projects that involve high risk of fly-away or loss-of-control — and in realistic wind, lighting and sensor conditions,” said U-M aerospace engineering professor Ella Atkins.

I feel for the neighbors, though. That buzzing is going to get annoying.