Athena co-founders Roxanne Petraes and Anne Solmsen started their company with a clear goal: There should be a more modern and effective way to deploy harassment training to employees. Athena’s solution is to send employees a ping with a monthly-size “monthly” or five-minute lesson, replacing an hour-long annual workshop with general flexible learning.
The startup raised $ 2 million from that vision in June, and today announced that it has followed the funding led by GSV with the same exact amount. The startup currently has $ 5 million in enterprise capital, with investors including Homebrew, Neo and Village Global.
Follow-on capital comes right after Ethena has some solid growth. The startup turned down some major contracts with companies including Netflix, Zoom and Zendsk and told TechCrunch that more than 20,000 active employees complete their monthly training.
Solid growth and new cash is where the story may stop for now, but Petraeus tells TechCrunch that the early momentum has also inspired what Athena wants to achieve.
“When we initially launched in February 2020, we thought that for its first year, we would focus solely on scaling companies because only startups would be interested in an innovative approach to compliance training,” he said. said. “What has changed is that we have learned that even larger enterprises want better approaches, deeper impact and are willing to be innovative in a space historically dominated by lawyers and legacy e-learning providers.”
The startup is expanding its offerings from anti-sexual harassment training to a variety of training courses, from financial compliance to codes of conduct. The co-founder said the change was not due to a lack of customer interest, but that the existing enterprise was seeking customers to offer more than just a singular theme.
“We think a specific area-based approach can actually reduce the impact we have,” Petraeus said. “So we’re really trying to adopt an inclusive approach,” which kind of topics should be considered more than “just checking a box” from the beginning.
A military veteran, Petraeus says Athena’s belief in effectiveness and results comes from military statistics on how adults learn.
“We know that traditional training is not effective only on behavior change, and there are some studies suggesting that this is a much larger response with increased unconscious bias after training than before.” The startup differs from other micro-learning plays in its curriculum.
The course is designed to be consumed over the course of a year rather than an annual hour-long session. This short walk is enough to give employees repetitions to understand the content. “We’re offering training with things like graphic novels and podcasts,” said Petraeus. “Ensuring everything we’re doing tomorrow is important tomorrow, because I think it’s important for us to be agile content creators.”
But Athena’s greatest distinction, says Petraeus, is its content. The epidemic has created a completely new situation, which employees need help, or active guidance, to navigate. Petraeus states that Athena’s monthly rhythm gives flexibility to adopt “modern” scenarios such as slack culture and zoom etiquette. Athena’s top performance training examinations in 2020 included lessons on online harassment prevention and mental health inclusion.
The micro-learning approach has long been popular among edtech companies as a way to sneak or gamify short lessons into one text. So far, Athena says more than 150,000 in-app learner feedback notes are more than 90% positive, adding that the information is engaging and relevant. In Q4, Athena saw an increase of learners in the quarter over 250%.
Deborah Kwazo of GSV, who led Athena seeds and now this follow-on financing, said it was “not a coincidence that they have picked up some of the world’s best logos at an early stage,” referring to Athena’s big clients . Quazo feels that there has been very limited innovation in the compliance market so far, even though this is a huge opportunity.
“They are seeing fit in such a strong product market and customers are pulling them into areas of content expansion, so there is more room to drive aggregate meanings created faster,” she said.