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20 December 2013

Russia’s Largest Private University Raising EdTech Venture Fund

Synergy Innovations working on $20m first closing

Author: Tim Lafferty, Managing Director, Global University Venturing

Synergy University, Russia’s largest private university, is raising a $100m venture fund, focussing on education technology. The fund will be managed by Synergy Innovations and already has $12m of commitments towards a first closing of $20m, from the university as well as from state-backed venture fund RVC and several wealthy individuals. Vadim Lobov, founder and CEO of Synergy University said “we will be approaching other Russian universities about investing in the fund, and if successful will then speak to universities in other countries.”

Synergy Innovations is a global fund, and in addition to offices in Russia, also has staff in Israel, US, UK, China, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. Roostam Tiger, based in Tel Aviv, said “We are looking to invest in seed or A rounds up to $5m and specifically in education technologies ranging from apps and e-learning platforms to internal systems for education providers. We will focus mainly on developing the 2nd wave of educational innovation, what we call "EdTech 2.0" - the emerging new truly digital paradigms. Most current hot EdTech innovations are online courses and other "EdTech 1.0" - old-school paradigms copied to the digital domain. They do provide a cost reduction and some step forward, but the true leap forward and a revolution in education will come with new truly digital paradigms, as lifelong, mission-driven education, personalized and interactive learning, experiential and simulation-based learning, and optimizing big-data." 

Lobov explained the difference between Synergy University (a merger in 2009 of the Moscow Academy of Industry and Finance with the  Synergy Business School) and the state-run universities: “We are creating a different type of student, more commercial. All our programmes, from the first year, are in partnership with corporates and provide us with real case studies and experiences.”

The university is not new to venturing, initially having invested in two internally incubated companies. Later it invested directly into four other startups, including Akada, a system of business processes automation for educational establishments. “We acted with a VC mindset - with methodologies and structures similar to a venture capital fund - to better prepare ourselves for raising a full-blown VC fund,” explained Tiger. "We believe that we are the first university venturing fund investing in external projects in the education ecosystem, rather than only in internally incubated spin outs."

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