Multiverse, the apprenticeship unicorn, acquires Searchlight to put a focus on AI | TechCrunch

Multiverse, the U.K. unicorn that builds apprenticeship programs for people to learn technology skills while on the job, has made an acquisition as it aims to skill up itself. The company has bought Searchlight, a startup that builds AI-based recruitment and assessment products. The plan will be to use Searchlight’s tech to create new AI products that Multiverse can use to expand its training services for professionals.

“Searchlight’s AI, platform and exceptional talent will allow us to better diagnose the skills needed within companies and deliver impactful solutions,” said Multiverse’s founder and CEO, Euan Blair, in a statement. “Combining our scale and world-class learning with Searchlight’s technology and team will ensure even more companies and individuals benefit.”

Searchlight was co-founded by twin sisters Kerry and Anna Wang (the company’s CEO and CTO, respectively). Its existing customers include Udemy, Zapier, Talkdesk and other tech companies, and they will continue to be served until the ends of their contracts, Kerry said. After that, Multiverse will wind down Searchlight’s recruitment services to focus on Multiverse’s business.

The deal underscores the increasing priority that AI is taking for startups straddling the worlds of work and education. Some people use AI to speed up what they do; others claim that AI is taking over certain jobs altogether. This acquisition addresses another area where AI is being employed: Edtech companies focusing on working environments want — and are expected by their customers — to use AI to build more efficient professional training services to fill recruitment gaps.

AI and recruitment have been somewhat controversial bedfellows. Amazon famously once had to scrap an AI recruitment tool after it was found to be inherently biased against women for technical roles due to being trained on typical recruitment data, which more commonly came from men.

But technology and awareness around how models are being built and trained have come a long way since then, Searchlight’s CEO told TechCrunch.

“Our AI model is able to identify a good match for a role four times better than a traditional interview,” Kerry said. She claimed that Searchlight was one of the first organizations in the world to independently audit its own AI models to ensure that the talent recommendations that it gave were without bias. “We’re solving for the exact same problem, which is increased equitable access to economic opportunity for everyone. Multiverse had a great business, but they’re looking to expand into an all-in-one workforce development platform.”

Kerry will become director of product at Multiverse, while Anna will become head of AI.

There are many questions you could ask about what role AI should play in learning, and whether some of its impact is more harmful than good. There is concern, for example, that students might use generative AI to write essays or take tests; some might worry that over-reliance on AI will make it harder to understand what students are really learning. But in supplemental training environments, AI can help personalize learning to an individual’s needs at scale, and it can be more engaging and dynamic for some learners than more traditional forms of education.

Founded and led by Blair (the son of former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair and high-profile barrister Cherie Booth Blair), Multiverse currently has around 1,000 customers, and its list of past and present clients include Cisco, government organizations, financial services and industrial companies.

While Multiverse first made its name with a focus on apprenticeships as a viable alternative for people looking to build careers in fast-moving fields like technology, it has since expanded to cover professional training for people who are already employed.

Multiverse has some AI-based services live now, said Ujjwal Singh, the company’s CTO and CPO, which include a personalized AI assistant coach for users. Now it clearly wants to keep layering in more technology to improve the overall platform and its credibility with customers intent on buying and using more modern services.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but for some context, the Wang sisters (both impressive and accomplished Stanford grads) took their startup through Y Combinator in 2018. But in times like these, those calling cards are only part of the calculus underpinning which startups thrive and which do not.

Altogether, Searchlight raised nearly $20 million, primarily via a $17 million Series A in 2021. Its long list of investors include a number of prominent names such as Accel, Founders Fund, Emerson Collective and Shasta Ventures. PitchBook estimated its valuation at $64 million in 2021.

Multiverse, meanwhile, was last valued at $1.7 billion in 2022 and has been on a fundraising tear over the last several years, raising several hundred million dollars from investors that include General Catalyst and Lightspeed. This is the company’s second acquisition after Eduflow, another YC company that it bought last year. Singh said Multiverse still has “plenty” of cash when I asked how it would be financing this round and whether it was in the process of raising more capital.

From what we understand, investors are “happy” with the outcome. “From the start, Anna and Kerry have been thoughtful about building Searchlight’s AI models to complement their vision,” Keith Rabois, who led the Searchlights’ Series A, said in a statement. “Searchlight’s differentiated technology is a magnet for innovative companies like Multiverse. I am excited by the upside of this acquisition for Searchlight and Multiverse.”

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