Who says there's no business in making free resources readily available and useful?
Los Gatos, CA-based OpenEd has raised $2 million at a $10 million valuation in a seed round from PivotNorth Capital. Founded in 2012, the startup offers a free search and recommendation engine for what it claims is the "largest K-12 educational resource catalog," with over a million Common Core-aligned videos, games and assessments.
The company was founded in 2012 after CEO Adam Blum was frustrated at being unable to search for standards-aligned learning materials for his son. He built a Ruby program, which he nicknamed the "Octopus," that uses machine learning algorithms to align online resources with academic standards, based on metadata.
Blum firmly believes academic standards will be widely adopted and accepted--regardless of their names or the politics surrounding them. "Whether its called 'Common Core' or 'Next Generation,' the fact is that rigorous standards are here to stay," says Blume. "Some of the states that withdrew from the Common Core are putting out standards based on it. It's a rose by any other name."
He adds: "When we are working with teachers, we are not seeing Common Core being politicized. They are markedly uninterested; they just want to be prepared for them." Over 100,000 teachers are actively using the OpenEd, even though "we've done very little marketing," says Blum.
OpenEd currently supports 10 major standard groups, including Common Core reading and math, California history and New York social studies. Over the next three months, the platform will also cover national standards for Scotland, Mexico and Singapore.
The company gets revenue from offering an API that lets other companies search for resources on OpenEd and make them available to their users. OpenEd charges them a monthly fee based on the number of API calls. Over two dozen partners are onboard, says Blum.
In the coming months, Blum adds, "we will roll out paid item banks and premium content, along with with a $10 per month subscription for teachers who want access to them. We will get revenue share with those premium content providers."
Repositories for open educational resources are not new, with tools like Gooru and OER Commons available. Blum believes the value of OpenEd "isn't just about reinventing another OER directory," but rather in providing a recommendation engine that delivers to students content that is personalized to their needs. On OpenEd, teachers can get resources based on assessments, so that if a student gets a question wrong, the platform can automatically recommend the right content.
Tim Connors, the founder and Managing Partner of PivotNorth Capital who oversaw this deal, was certainly hooked. Blum says the time between his first breakfast with him to closing this round was a mere two weeks--which may make this one of the fastest rounds ever for this industry.