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Mark Cuban, ECMC lead $1.8M round for cluster to develop industrial tech talent

The following article is from Ed Surge

The allure of "tech jobs" and the salaries they command have given rise to new industries, from coding bootcamps to specialized recruiters. Yet the likes of Google and Facebook sometimes overshadow sectors that have been—and remain—core to the American economy: industrial manufacturing.

It's in this niche where Cluster operates, and is growing. The Culver City, Calif.-based startup has raised $1.9 million in a seed round led by Mark Cuban and ECMC Group, an education nonprofit. Other investors include education technology executives, like Penn Foster CEO Frank Britt and Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig, along with Zynga founder Mark Pincus and Flatiron Health CEO, Nat Turner.

U.S. manufacturing jobs may seem like a relic of the past, especially after the Great Recession. But that's hardly the case. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows these opportunities are on the rise, with 284,000 manufacturing jobs added in 2018. In total, an estimated 1.4 million such openings have been added since 2010.

But these aren't the manufacturing jobs of yesteryear. The new roles require new digital skills—with design tools like Siemens NX and CATIA, and companies struggle to find qualified candidates, according to Cluster's founder and CEO, Kim Taylor. That's where she says her startup comes in. "We have the vertical expertise to efficiently connect talented people with places where they can work."

In other words: Cluster acts as a specialized recruiter focused on filling advanced manufacturing roles in the aerospace, automotive and defense industries. The company is based in Los Angeles, home to many of these companies. Individuals can use the matchmaking platform for free; employers pay a subscription fee.

In the future, Cluster aims to expand its services to help companies train and upskill their employees. "If you look at our investors, it's clear that online education is on our roadmap, and corporate learning and development are there as well," says Taylor.

Backing Cluster is serial entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who invested in Taylor's last company, Ranku. In the industrial manufacturing sector, "there is obviously unfilled demand, and I'm a believer that robotics and AI will materially change the nature of work over the next decade," Mark Cuban said in an email. Taylor, he believes, "has proven experience enabling marketplaces and matching supply and demand."

Taylor's made matches happen before. She previously worked in online education marketing, helping places including Kaplan, University of Phoenix and 2U recruit students. Her last startup, Ranku, worked with higher-ed institutions to market their online programs more effectively. That company was sold to Wiley in 2016 for a reported $25 million.

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