In episode 24 of the Ed News Ticker, titled “The Curse of Gates”, Chris and Kirsten talk more about edtech in the UK, India and Brazil and also cover a variety of US domestic education technology stories.
Our international stories cover funding for Indian startup Foradian Technologies, the strategic partnership of Blackboard with Grupo Positivo in Brazil and Virgin Media’s efforts to save schools in the UK some money.
After inBloom’s untimely demise ConnectEDU also joined the deadpool; let’s hope that BloomBoard will not be affected by the curse of Gates after having raised a $5 million Series A in which the foundation participated.
Companies InsideTrack and EdStart went on a shopping spree.
Furthermore, we also have news for you from some of the big players including Bing for the Classroom, Pearson’s free math app “Virtual Nerd”, Barnes & Noble’s Yuzu is in beta and Lynda.com now has a programming course for kids.
Last but not least, we know a bit more about Osman Rashid’s new edtech venture “Galxyz”, Collegefeed launched a career center platform and we might all soon be able to boost our learning by wearing the Halo Neuroscience Headband.
In the field of edtech things move very quickly. Over the past couple of weeks, we have covered lots of edtech startup news; now we think is a good moment to take a look at some recent news from the grown ups in the education space.
In this special edition of our weekly EdTech News rundown beyond funding, IPOs or mergers we take a look at lynda.com’s new coding course for children, Pearson’s free math tutorial app, Microsoft’s Bing for the Classroom and Barnes & Noble’s new textbook app.
This Friday Kirsten and Chris welcomed Katrina Stevens on the show. Katrina is an educator with of 20 years of experience as a teacher and administrator. She has worked in the district offices of Baltimore County Public Schools and is also a consultant and EdSurge’s summit coordinator.
Capture Education has raised a $1.2 million Angel Round for the company’s ScheduleSmart software. The round was led by North Coast Angel Fund and Ohio Business Angels with participation of Dublin-based Fast Switch Ltd and individual investors.
The funding will be used to hire programmers, and relocate into new offices.
During the annual Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Barcelona, the company announced some interesting partnerships alongside a keynote by Anthony Salcito, vice president, Worldwide Education at Microsoft that emphasized the value of student privacy.
“Privacy concerns are holding educators back from making the most of modern technology and preparing students to succeed in today’s workplace. At the same time, many solutions being used in the classroom are unintentionally putting student data at risk.
This week’s episode of On the Ed started twice as we had some trouble (as so often) with the Google Hangout on Air. But hey, that’s why we are still in alpha. So this time you don’t get one hour of edtech punditry but a more condensed version with the two Kirsten’s of edtech in Europe, as Kirsten Campbell-Howes put it.
Chris could not join us this week as he is busy with the launch of a new startup. I am sure he will share some updates on that next week. Below you find the stories Kirsten and I talked about in the show plus some extra news items we did not have the time to cover.
Grockit brand and technology sold to Kaplan, team rebrands to Learnist
The writing was somewhat on the wall for a while as Farbood Nivi, founder and CEO of Grockit made clear that the focus of the team had shifted from the test prep platform towards their new product Learnist. Farb and I talked about this in January during our EDUKWEST interview.
Back then he stated that though Grockit was still a very good business he felt that he and the team had achieved pretty much achieved they could do with the startup and that Learnist was far more exciting and had a big potential as a key player in the lifelong learning space. I also imagine it to be pretty difficult to have two totally different products under one roof, as Learnist up to the deal with Kaplan was basically just a product within Grockit, not a startup of its own.
The acquisition of the Grockit brand and technology by Kaplan and the rebranding of the team to Learnist once again shows that Farb is one of the smartest founders in edtech today. It’s a win-win for all sides involved. Kaplan gets a great brand, product and potentially nice group of customers, Farb and the team can now go all in with Learnist with some extra cash in the warchest. Though the details of the deal have not been made public, Farb told AllThingsD that
“Selling Grockit gives us considerable runway without any dilution of shares.”
The interesting part now is whether Kaplan will be able to integrate Grockit into its business and build on the brand. I don’t know how much about the strategy is out there already, but I can say that the “product owner” of Grockit is going to be a familiar face to the EDUKWEST audience. As soon as he has settled into the new role, we are going to have him back for a talk.
Voxy raises $8.5 million from Pearson and Rethink Education
If people ask me about interesting companies in the mobile education space, Voxy is definitely among the names I mention. Paul Gollash and his team have built one of the best mobile experiences in the language learning space, leveraging technology and content in a way that actually make sense.
If you want to know how it all started, I did an interview with Paul just after his first appearance at TechCrunch50.
The latest Series B round led by Pearson brings the total funding to $16.5 million according to CrunchBase. Pearson is planning to integrate Voxy’s technology into its own products for English learners across the globe.
Which leaves us with two questions.
1. Are mobile learning startups FNACs (feature, not a company)?
2. When is Pearson going to acquire Voxy?
To the first question, right now there are not many examples of startups in the mobile space that have managed to create a huge company compared to classic web based companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google etc. Sure, the future is mobile, no doubt about it, but if you take a look at Instagram which built up a huge audience you also see that it ended up as being a part (feature) of Facebook. Vine and Twitter is another example and Rovio is probably the only startup at the moment that made an impact comparable to web startups.
So there is the question if Voxy (or any other mobile first learning startup) is going to be big enough to stand on their own or whether they all end up being part of an established player that has a larger footprint throughout different verticals like publishing, physical schools etc.
Which takes us to the second question. Investing in a startup to later acquire it is a strategy we have seen quite often with Pearson. I would say depending on the acceptance of Voxy among the Pearson audience and the general performance I give Voxy a maximum of three years as an independent startup.
Hoot.Me joins Civitas Learning
I learned about this “acquihire” through a LinkedIn update by Hoot.me founder Michael Koetting who now is product manager at Civitas Learning. There are no terms disclosed but Michael told me via email that
Hoot.Me is now part of Civitas Learning and will continue to be fully supported.
Michael and his co-founders created Hoot.Me after they were not able to get answers to difficult questions in their massive college seminar classes. Over the years more than a million interactions took place on the platform and as more and more colleges and universities jump on the MOOC bandwagon, real interactions with real people could be a key success factor for many students.
The aim of the incubator program is to help those education entrepreneurs build their business and to improve their investability.
As in every incubator program the teams will get access to in-person and remote training by experts and mentors. Each month there is going to be a 3-4 days conference style workshop supplemented with webinars and other online communication. The first two workshops focus on the team and business model, the final workshop is going to deal with the financial aspects around fund raising.
The twist is that after each workshop the teams have to pitch and rate each others performance after six criteria:
Scaling and impact
After the final ranking on the Investors’ Demo Day, the top two startups are going to receive up to $75k each. Pearson Affordable Learning Fund provides $100k, Village Capital $50k.
Of course, the projects pitched should fit the general theme of providing children of low-income families with good education opportunities.
“We are thrilled to bring this programme to entrepreneurs striving to develop businesses that enhance outcomes and access for low-income learners in India. We’ve seen a lack of early support and risk capital in the low-cost education space and we are pleased to take the lead in creating a robust ecosystem for impact-oriented edupreneurs and incubate innovative models of education to dramatically improve learning at scale.”
says Katelyn Donnelly, Executive Director at Pearson Affordable Learning Fund.
Unfortunately, this program has some barriers that might single out promising edupreneurs from the start. First of all, applicants need to cover the travel expenses for at least one team member as every workshop is going to take place in another Indian city, namely Hyderabad, Delhi and Bangalore. On top of that they also need to pay a $250 nominal program fee.
Other points include that non-funded startups are preferred (more equity for Pearson and Village Capital), plans to raise at least $500k in the next two years and only for-profit concepts are eligible for seed funding.