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Online learning startup rises on US$1 mil. funding from 'angel' investors

SAN FRANCISCO -- A startup intent on making it simple for anyone to teach online has received US$1 million in funding from “angels,” technology industry successes backing peers with good ideas.

Udemy.com will use the cash to hire workers and ramp-up operations, co-founder Gagan Biyani said Tuesday in making the announcement.

“We want to essentially democratize education so that anyone can teach over the Internet,” Biyani said. “We make it really easy for anyone to develop an online course.”

Biyani and the two other co-founders have been the entire workforce since Udemy was launched in May in the northern California city of Palo Alto.

Most courses listed at Udemy on Tuesday were free to students. Topics ranged from how to start a business or use computer software tools to winning at poker or picking up women.

The course list included an online class by high-level Google executive Marissa Mayer titled “Ideas come from everywhere.”

More than a thousand instructors have created courses at Udemy, with a host of offerings coming from prestigious US universities including Stanford, Yale, and MIT.

Biyani said that he and fellow founders Eren Bali and Oktay Caglar began working on Udemy about two years ago after meeting at Founder Institute, a training camp for entrepreneurs run by thefunded.com.

The financing won by Udemy is a prime example of how angel investors in the form of technology industry successes are stepping in to back people with cool new ideas, according to Adeo Ressi of thefunded.com.

He said that the amount of money being invested by venture capital firms (VCs) has sunk while folks reaping rewards at hot companies such as Google, Facebook, or Zynga are putting newfound wealth into startups that they like.

“You have a decline in venture capital with a really aggressive surge in angel investing,” Ressi said. “These angels are essentially coming to the rescue of new startups.”

Venture capital for startups dried up as the global economy melted down and the market made it daunting for young companies to go public with stock offerings when early investors are counting on big returns.

“The VC industry is really hurting,” said VentureBeat editor Matt Marshall, executive producer of a DEMO event considered a premier showcase for technology startups. “Angels are big.”

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