The closure of schools and universities during the pandemic has been a boon to online education companies.

Investors poured $13.6 billion into edtech startups in 2020, up 172% from the previous year, and the median post-money valuation for the sector jumped to $21.2 million by the end of Q1 2021, a nearly two-fold year-over-year increase, PitchBook data shows.

And now, Coursera, one of edtech's best-known names, has capitalized on the excitement surrounding the sector by debuting on the NYSE and ending its first day of trading at a market cap of $5.86 billion. The company's last private market valuation was $2.57 billion.

Founded in 2012, Coursera previously raised more than $460 million from investors including NEA, G Squared and Kleiner Perkins, according to PitchBook data.

Investors on Wednesday bid up newly public shares in Coursera, which offers free and paid online classes, certificate programs, enterprise-sponsored skill courses for employees, and also partners with universities on degree programs. The stock opened at $39, an 18% increase over the IPO price of $33, and closed at $45.

Wall Street's reception of Coursera's market debut suggests investors believe that the adoption of online learning for post-secondary education is likely to continue after the pandemic subsides and students can physically return to classrooms.

Coursera is still unprofitable, but its revenue grew to $293.5 million in 2020, a 59% increase from $184.4 million the previous year. Losses increased to $66.8 million, up from $46.7 million in 2019.

The near lack of improvement in operating margins stems from Coursera's sales push into the newer and more profitable enterprise and online degree segments. The company's sales and marketing expenses almost doubled from $57 million in 2019 to $107.2 million in 2020.

Even though Coursera's revenue needs to keep growing at a fast clip for the company to reach profitability, its successful IPO could be a bellwether for other edtech startups contemplating a public listing. Duolingo, Masterclass and Udemy are among the US-based online education startups that have seen a spike in user demand amid the pandemic and could consider their own public debuts soon.

Investors are hopeful that Coursera's IPO is only the beginning of a surge of long-awaited exits in the sector.

Analysts with education research firm HolonIQ predict that the number of publicly traded education companies valued at over $1 billion will more than double to over 100 by 2025.
 
 
Featured image via PeopleImages/Getty Images
 

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