VILLAGE CAPITAL has announced a $13.2 million fund that will make 100 investments in 75 companies around the globe tackling tough social problems including education. Investment decisions are made using a “peer-selected” model where 12 companies are chosen to participate in workshops, after which they rank each other. The group has already invested in Pear Deck, MPOWER Financing and Ubongo.
BIDDING FOR BLACKBOARD: Blackboard has been on a buying spree, snapping up 10 companies in recent years. Now the script has flipped: Reuters' sources say Blackboard is exploring a sale that could potentially be worth $3 billion. Deutsche Bank AG and Bank of America have reportedly been hired to run an auction.
Founded in 1997, Blackboard was acquired by Providence Equity Partners for $1.64 billion in 2011. E-Literate's Phil Hill says the deal shouldn't be terribly surprising, given that Providence has done what private equity firms do best: cut employees, restructure and sell. He writes: “Blackboard has gone through several rounds of layoffs, and many key employees have already left the company due to new management and restructuring plans.”
Claiming users in 1,900 education institutions across 100 countries, Blackboard has long been a market leader in the learning management system market. But the company is losing ground to upstarts like Instructure, whose tools some users say are more intuitive and easy to use. Recognizing that it does not enjoy the best reputation among teachers and students, Blackboard recently unveiled a “New Learning Initiative” that promises a more streamlined, user-friendly product experience.
NO RADICALS ALLOWED: "YODO" may seem like an innocuous typo but not to Impero, a UK company behind a suite of tools that monitors students for unsavory online activities—including terrorism and “extremist” activities. The Guardian examines the growing industry for “anti-radicalization” software, which comes in response to a UK law that holds schools responsible “to prevent pupils being drawn into terrorism.” Words that will flag Impero’s system, in use in 16 UK schools and 4 in the US, include “YODO,” “jihobbyist” and “storm front.”
Privacy advocates and the Muslim community are justifiably outraged at these measures. More concerns were highlighted in this report from Forbes on how one researcher found a glaring security gaffe: Impero was using “password” as the default password to connect clients to servers. The company says it has patched up the problem—but not without making a legal fuss around how the benevolent hacker exposed the flaw. Even still, systems like Impero remain vulnerable, writes Forbes' Thomas Fox-Brewster:
Technology that helps teachers monitor your children could be used by anyone, anywhere, to do the same. As schools increase surveillance, expect more avenues for outsiders to find a way onto their networks.
PAJARO GRANDE (otherwise known as Big Bird in English) will be taking flight on August 1, as Sesame Street and Univision today announced "Sesame Amigos," Sesame Street's first-ever Spanish language show developed for a U.S. audience. Produced by Sesame Workshop (the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street), the show will include 26 new episodes and include character favorites like Elmo and Cookie Monster.
“We are thrilled to be debuting our first season of Sesame Amigos with our partners at Univision,” said Steve Youngwood, Chief Operating Officer of Sesame Workshop, in a Sesame press release. “Sesame Amigos will further our mission of helping kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder by reaching new Hispanic audiences with our funny, furry content and characters in ways that reflect their language and culture.”
ACROBATIQ: $9.75 million to Pittsburgh, PA-based Acrobatiq in a Series A round financed by Draper Triangle Ventures, Hearst Ventures, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Founded in 2013, Acrobatiq first received funding from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to build a higher education focused adaptive learning platform. It currently offers an adaptive courseware catalogue, a data analytics dashboard, and course authoring tools.
The company claims the tool is backed by 12 years of research conducted by CMU’s Open Learning Initiative. This most funding will support continued development of Acrobatiq’s learning platform, along with sales and marketing efforts. Early Acrobatiq adopters include Arizona State University and the University System of Georgia. More details in the press release.