Giving teachers more freedom and dollars to buy the instructional materials they need only makes sense. And Educents aims to do just that, with the help of a $2.9 million seed round led by SoftTech VC, with Crosslink Capital, Deep Fork Capital, Kapor Capital and Learn Capital also participating. Angel investors include Deborah Quazzo (founder and managing partner of GSV Advisors) and Joanne Wilson (co-founder of the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival).
Founded in 2013, the Oakland, CA-based startup offers a marketplace where educators and parents can shop for instructional materials including toys, worksheets and lesson plans along with digital materials. The company listed more than 5,000 products in March 2015, according to co-founder and CEO Kate Whiting.
Educents started by offering flash deals (products that are discounted for a short period of time), and recently allowed businesses to create their own store pages to sell regular-priced items. “We’re now more of an Etsy where each individual seller has his or her own storefront,” says Whiting.
Educents’ mission is to create a more efficient marketplace that saves teachers both time and money. Today, Whiting says, it can take up to three months before purchases are approved and delivered, leaving some teachers to pay for materials themselves so they can get them sooner. (The National School Supply and Equipment Association estimates that public K-12 teachers spend a total of $1.6 billion out of pocket.) Educents—which does not hold any inventory—promises its merchants will deliver products within five business days.
The company also wants to woo schools, and has piloted the platform with a few schools across the KIPP, Aspire and Green Dot charter networks. Schools put money on Educents, which are converted to “EduBucks” (at a 1:1 ratio) that can only be spent on materials available on the platform. The company is currently giving schools an extra 10% of EduBucks, which means that if a school puts $100 on Educents, it can buy $110 worth of materials.
Another hassle that Educents strives to overcome is expenditure reporting. “Schools want to give money and teachers autonomy to make purchases,” says Whiting, “but reporting back to the school is a nightmare.” Whenever a teacher from an Educents school partner buys something on the platform, the system will create a report back to the school that specifies how dollars were spent.
The company gets a commission for each item sold, and generated $1.6 million in revenue before raising this round. Educents is also a graduate in the most recent class of edtech incubator, Imagine K12. Whiting boasts “we closed our round in three weeks after Demo Day” in January.
The company claims it has 200,000 registered members across 73 countries is adding 50,000 new users a month. The funding will help expand the team of 16 full-time employees as the company looks to grow its footprint among schools and districts.
Closing these deals will be vital as the company will likely find itself contending with other established education marketplaces like TeachersPayTeachers, where educators buy and sell teacher- and publisher-created materials.