Here's the kind of news that every founder would love to share: NoRedInk, the San Francisco-based grammar tool startup founded by former teacher, Jeff Scheur, has raised $2 million. The investors include: Google Ventures, Social+Capital, Learn Capital, Charles River Ventures, NewSchools Venture Fund and others. The better news: the funding will let Scheur postpone developing a premium or paid program and simply share his technology for free for the foreseeable future.
NoRedInk, which debuted in 2012, is building sets of online tools that help students practice English grammar and give teachers insights in the strengths and weaknesses of students. During his eight years as a teacher, Scheur estimates that he graded about 15,000 papers; NoRedInk became Scheur's personal mission to allow teachers to focus on high
level concepts and not reduce grammar practice to multiple choice
"I am super excited that we'll be able to share all the resources we're building with teachers," Scheur told EdSurge. Some 12,000 schools are already using the free version of NoRedInk. Scheur had previously planned to offer premium accounts, priced at around $10 per student per year to schools. Several hundred schools had signed up to be on a waiting list for that paid version. Now Scheur is sending them cheerful notes with a simple message: "We won't be taking your money."
"Our investors want to see engagement," Scheur says. Beginning in September, NoRedInk plans to release a "grammar category," or set of tools focused around one grammar challenge for free. Capitalization was first. Hyphens, colons, semicolons, pronoun cases will follow soon. Scheur says he picks his priorities are based on polls that he's doing with teachers. (Want to put in your vote? Go here.)
Want to vote on what grammar problem NoRedInk should tackle next? Weigh in here.
From Scheur's vantage, straightening out kids' grammar is as fundamental as that other college gatekeeper, namely algebra. There far fewer tools focused on grammar, however, Scheur notes. Worse: many are classic multiple choice drills. Instead, Scheur aims to unlock students from such rigid choices.
A classic test problem, for instance, might give a student a sentence such as: "Each
student did there homework" and ask the student select the right pronoun: there, their, his, her, our.
"But there's not one way to make this sentence correct," Scheur points out. "You could change the early part of the sentence to make it agree: "All the students did their homework."
NoRedInk is building a set of tools that will help bridge the gap between narrow grammar drills and free form writing. And that, Scheur believes, could help build a great new generation of writers. "If we can help kids build confidence in all the areas where they have
misconceptions by giving them the freedom to see their mistakes and the structure to guide them toward good decisions, we can help build great writing skills," Scheur says.
He hopes to stay close to teachers. "We love jumping into the classrooms in the San Francisco Bay area and seeing how teachers and students are using NoRedInk. We do it every month. Teachers can email us if they want us to visit," he says.
In the meantime, Scheur's investors seem to be following a similar tactic with his company, namely, giving NoRedInk enough freedom to make its tools available to as many teachers and students as possible--but enough structure to grow a sustainable company. Sounds like a pretty cool formula!