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

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 and recruitment platform that uses artificial intelligence-based technology to source talent. The plan will be to use Searchlight’s tech to build new AI products for Multiverse to expand its professional training services.

“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 (respectively CEO and CTO). Its existing customers (which include Udemy, Zapier, Talkdesk and other tech companies) will continue to be served until the ends of their contracts. After that, the plan will be to wind down Searchlight’s recruitment services as they focus on Multiverse’s business.

The deal underscores the increasing role that AI is playing in the worlds of work and education. Some people will use AI to speed up what they do; others will claim that AI is taking over certain jobs altogether. This acquisition addresses a third area where AI is appearing: to help build more efficient professional training services to fill recruitment gaps.

AI and recruitment have at times been strange 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 more pointedly 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 greater than a traditional interview,” Wang said. “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.

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, with its list of past and present clients including 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 already employed. Multiverse has some AI-based services live now, said Ujjwal Singh, the company’s CTO and CPO: it already offers 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 a set of customers intent on buying and using what appear to be the most modern services they can.

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. Altogether Searchlight raised nearly $20 million, but that was primarily via a fundraise dating several years back, a $17 million Series A in 2021. Its long list of investors included a number of prominent names such as Accel, Founders Fund, Emerson Collective, and Shasta Ventures. Pitchbook estimated its valuation in 2021 at $64 million.

Multiverse, meanwhile, was last valued at $1.7 billion in 2022 and has been on a fundraising tear over the years, raising several hundred million dollars from investors that include General Catalyst and Lightspeed. This is the company’s second acquisition after it acquired another YC company, Eduflow, last year.

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 Series A, said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “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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