At a time when expertise is under attack worldwide, and misinformation is rife, creating a space for genuine intellectual inquiry is even more vital.
Taking up the challenge head-on, UK-based innovative learning platform and community for the curious, The Garden has raised £3 million in seed funding. The round was led by Index Ventures and Village Global and backed by an impressive roster of angel investors, including Fidji Simo, CEO of Instacart; Ian Hogarth, co-founder of Plural and co-founder and CEO of Songkick; Matt Robinson, founder of Gocardless and Nested; Gale Rebuck, chair of Penguin Random House; Allison Stern, cofounder of Tubular Labs; and Philippe von Borries, co-founder of Refinery29.
Like a Netflix for University, The Garden brings academics out of their institutions and into members’ homes with livestream and interactive talks every week, which also become available on-demand for members to watch at their leisure.
Following a beta launch in January of this year, over 11,000 early members have now signed up. Two to three new live talks are streamed each week, with an average of more than 200 people attending each talk live, and many more accessing over 100 on-demand talks.
So, how is the platform different from the already existing ones in the market? The central offering consists of cinematic but intimate live-streamed talks by world-leading experts (known as ‘Fellows’) across the sciences and humanities. They curate a range of arresting topics: from the neuroscientist Professor Gina Rippon on gender and the brain; to plant scientist Professor Katie Field on the secret world of fungi; to oceanographer Professor Erik Cordes on deep ocean exploration; and psychologist Professor Ann Phoenix on the construction of social identity. They also bring relevant experts into The Garden to give deep insight into topical issues like the history of the Russia-Ukraine war & Nuclear Disarmament right at the moment when people need to understand these topics.
Co-founder and CEO Sophie Adelman said: “While there’s been an explosion of online learning in the last decade, the overfocus on achievement-oriented learning misses a lot of people’s needs. The Garden opens a world of learning to people who want to feed their curiosity by exploring a fascinating range of topics in an enjoyable, accessible way with live engagement. There are no papers to be written or exams to be sat in The Garden; simply put, we are a growing, global community for the curious.”
The digital-first experience means members feel ‘in the room’ wherever they are in the world. Compared to passive learning experiences with celebrity instructors on Masterclass or watching speakers on stage in snackable TED talks, Garden Gatherings feel tailored, intimate, and conversational, like an Oxbridge supervision without the fear of a bad grade.
Talks are filmed in the Fellow’s home, and the audience is a dynamic participant, able to react and engage in real-time to the speaker and other audience members.
“The Garden is poised to shape the direction of public culture in years to come,” added Hannah Seal of Index Ventures.
With diversity being a founding principle of the Garden, 35% of its fellows are people of colour and more than half are female. Half of The Garden’s investors are also female. Its membership is equally weighted between those under the 30s, still excited about deepening and continuing their education, and older people who are entering retirement and are looking for ways to light up their minds - bringing together a diverse intergenerational community.