MasteryConnect has raised $5 million from Zuckerberg Education Ventures, the for-profit venture fund associated with the Facebook founder. This funding is an extension of the company’s $15.2 million Series B round announced in September 2014, and boosts its fundraising total to $29 million.
Founded in 2009, the Salt Lake City, UT-based company offers a competency-based learning platform that allows educators to plan and measure how students are performing on over 700,000 learning objectives set by state or Common Core standards. According to Cory Reid, the company’s chief executive, the goal is to have every US academic standard covered by the platform by the end of the year.
Unlike traditional grades-based instruction, which lumps a student’s understanding of different topics within a subject into a single grade (for example, a C+ in math), competency-based learning emphasizes mastery of individual skills (such as adding fractions with unlike denominators).
Here’s one thing the company seems to be “mastering:” growing its footprint among districts and schools around the world. Reid says MasteyConnect has users in 85 percent of US districts and “close to 1,800 paying districts and schools” across more than 170 countries. To date, the platform has recorded over 1.5 billion student responses on formative assessments.
Roughly 70 percent of the company’s two million registered teachers are using the free version of the platform. This freemium sales approach, which relies on them to evangelize and upsell the product to administrators, seems to be working: Reid claims teachers are involved in 35 percent of the sales deals closed with schools and districts and that 50,000 to 60,000 new teachers sign up every month.
“Our belief is that teachers should have a voice and disrupt the broken procurement process,” he tells EdSurge. “I’m pretty impassioned about this because many software companies forget about the end user—[in this case] the teachers in the trenches in the classroom.”
The company has also doubled its headcount from a year ago to 140 employees today.
In addition to growing the engineering, product and sales teams, the funding will also support future acquisitions of other firms. Reid has already reviewed—and passed on—a few opportunities. “There are a lot of companies that are just products but can never be companies,” he adds, saying he’s on the hunt for tools “aligned with the competency-based platform we’re building.” MasteryConnect’s sole acquisition was Socrative, a student response system used for formative assessments, purchased in June 2014 for $5 million.
The company may have plenty of options to consider, given the recent surge in the number of startups and venture capital firms supporting the education technology industry. And according to investment bank Berkery Noyes, mergers and acquisitions activity in this space is currently at its highest point in recent years.
“I’m excited about the focus and attention that education technology is getting from companies, investors and foundations,” says Reid. But he adds: “It’s also critical to think about who’s effecting change….it’s not the investors, companies or policymakers, but the teachers in the trenches. That’s who we are building for.”