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More than ESL: Art tutoring startup gets Tencent funding amid China online education boom

While online English learning companies are well-known in China, art tutoring platform Meishubao just closed a Tencent-led C+ round.

Kids learn art via Meishubao Photo provided to KrASIA

Meishubao, a Hangzhou-headquartered platform that teaches painting and drawing, just closed a USD 40 million Series C+ round led by Tencent, according to a post on the WeChat account of Tencent Investment, the tech giant’s investment unit, on Thursday. While online English-learning platforms like VIPKid have long been popular in China, the COVID-19 crisis has given a boost to other players in the country’s online education market.

Shunwei Capital, BlueRun Ventures, BHG Long Hills Capital Management, Chuangzhi Capital, and Bojia Capital all participated in this round.

Meishubao launched in 2014 with an online community called Meishubao Yikao for high school students in China hoping to major in art. Three years later, it expanded into management software for art training centers.

Soon, Meishubao ventured into online learning for children aged four to 12, rolling out customized one-on-one courses in 2018, small-class courses in 2019, and AI-assisted courses in 2020. The company has now more than 200,000 paying users and a monthly revenue exceeding RMB 100 million (USD 14 million), according to Tencent Investment. Meishubao also revealed that its for-free teaching videos have been played more than 700 million times amid the outbreak in China.

Founder and CEO Gan Ling said that the new funds will be used for product updates, R&D, and team building, Tencent Investment wrote on its WeChat.

As most classrooms remain shut in China, online learning has turned from an option to a necessity. In addition, after months of trials, kids are getting increasingly used to learning and interacting with their human or AI tutors via a phone or a tablet. Parents are also shifting their attitude towards this modern way of learning since they do not need to send, wait, and pick up their kids from a location kilometers away from home.

Profiting from this boom, other education tech companies are raising new funds too.

Beijing-based Yuanfudao, which offers Chinese, English, and Math courses, just closed its Series G round, collecting USD 1 billion from investors led by Hillhouse Capital, the largest-ever fundraising deal in China’s online education sector, as KrASIA reported in March.

Zuoyebang, another Beijing-based edtech firm, completed its Series E fundraising round raking in a total of USD 750 million from a group of investors including Tiger Global, Sequoia Capital China, and SoftBank’s Vision Fund I, KrASIA reported in June. The company’s app lets students find answers and instructions to coursework questions by simply taking a photo and uploading the questions to “match” with a solution.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the amount of funding as USD 400 million. (Corrected on July 13, 2020)