Education Opinion

Big Venture Investments in HR Startups & What it Means for Education

By Tom Vander Ark — July 24, 2017 4 min read
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If you track venture investments, you’ve noticed a flood of investment into human resource startups. The daily GSV TalentED newsletter has at least one HR or talent development deal.

Chalk up the sector disruption to better software-as-a-service platforms, cheaper cloud-computing services and the rise of artificial intelligence across all HR functions.

“Suddenly, everyone seems to be deploying algorithms to find the best and brightest candidates,” said Paul Burley, co-founder and CEO of PredictiveHire out of Melbourne.

“Artificial intelligence catalyzes real intelligence,” said GSV’s Michael Moe. “AI is a game changer.”

Harver just raised $8.1M to make it easy to use AI to power through a pile of résumés gathering relevant data and calculating a candidate’s propensity for success in a job.

Last year there were more than 400 deals with $2.2B. By function, here’s a summary (click on the chart for a larger view):

By category, here’s what startups are focusing on:

  • HR automation (23)
  • Compensation and benefits (22)
  • Job boards (17)
  • Flexible hiring (14)
  • Candidate management (14)
  • Career development (11)
  • Screening and vetting (10)
  • Staffing and scheduling (6)
  • College hiring (5)

How is AI Improving HR?

Most of these startups are using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve service delivery:


  • Automated sourcing and segmented recruitment marketing
  • Candidate contact and support
  • Interview scheduling and video interviewing
  • Scoring constructed response questions in application
  • Scoring candidates on Grit, Rigor, Impact, Teamwork, Polish, Curiosity and Ownership (the Koru Impact Skills)
  • Collating and assessing 360-degree feedback during an appraisal
  • Hiring event management
  • Pre-employment compliance


  • Chatbots for frontline employee relations (Buddy, a bank chatbot, answers complex individual employee question in real time)
  • Track employee training, identify learning and compliance gaps
  • Behavior nudges and virtual coaching
  • Track absenteeism, new hire performance, vacancies and turnover
  • Predict high flyers and early departures
  • Compile data points on performance reviews
  • Improve employee scheduling and capacity utilization
  • Manage retirement savings

New HR technologies treat employees as consumers and provide enhanced consumer-like experiences.

“Workforce analytics can be used at all three major phases of talent management -- talent acquisition, retention and nurture,” said Niranjan Krishnan, head of data science and innovation at Tiger Analytics.

What Does All of This Mean for Edu?

As the Kansas City TFA director, Alicia Kotarba had a hunch that the teacher-school match challenge could learn something from dating sites. Five years ago she founded MyEdMatch to improve teacher’s ability to find a school and position that matched their interests.

On the path forward, Alicia said, “I definitely think we will see a focus on fit/comparability as well as ease of use for candidate experience.” This will lead to broader reach and easier to find jobs, and improved ability to compare and apply, Kotarba added.

Alicia’s startup is now part of Frontline Education which has made six acquisitions in the last 18 months. Their leading job board, K12Jobspot, lists more than 90,000 jobs from over 3,500 districts nationwide.

Teachers-Teachers increases efficiencies in recruiting for education organizations by offering one of the most proactive and user-friendly web-based applications for recruiting and hiring.

Alex Hernandez reported that 8 out 10 of the largest operators are looking for better HR capabilities. Charter Growth Fund summarized this growing demand in a series about KIPP LA. He added that there is very little integration between HR functions and it’s hard to get even basic data.

In addition to making it easier for applicants to find the right job and for schools to find the best possible staff members, AI-powered startups should provide:

  • Better teacher substitute systems;
  • More efficient employee scheduling systems;
  • Improved employee service from HR; and
  • Smarter personalized professional learning

Learners will benefit too. Startup PeopleGrove helps students access on-demand career advance. “Our vision is to empower Stanford students to transform their education and ambitions into meaningful work. Connections and relationships are the heart and soul of our model,” says Farouk Dey, Associate Vice Provost of Student Affairs and Dean of Career Education at Stanford University. “To us, PeopleGrove is key to making this possible.”

AI-powered platforms will also power enhanced alumni relations for universities including lifelong learning and mentoring opportunities.

It won’t be fast, but things will get better around the edges in the next few years.

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The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.