What’s in a name? For Accelerate Learning, it’s a prediction. The company is gaining speed.
The latest boost comes in the form of venture capital. Owl Ventures has invested $10 million of Series A funding in the company. Accelerate, founded at Rice University in Houston, TX, makes STEMscopes and other STEM resources for preK-12 students and teachers.
Tory Patterson, Managing Director at Owl Ventures, will join Accelerate’s board of directors. Neither Accelerate nor Owl Ventures disclosed the valuation of the company. Rice Management Company, steward of the university’s $5.6 billion endowment, was the company’s sole previous investor and remains its largest shareholder.
The company's been growing fast. Since its founding in 2013, Accelerate’s flagship product STEMscopes has expanded to 6,000 schools in 35 states, according to the company’s press release. Alongside STEMscopes, Accelerate provides digital resources, supplemental print materials, and hands-on exploration kits, each of which can be customized to align to different states’ standards, to STEM teachers and students. The company has also aligned many of its materials to the Next Generation Science Standards. Each school using Accelerate’s materials pays a subscription fee, and Patterson said his firm was excited about both Accelerate’s growing revenue as well as its broadening distribution.
“Our reasons for investing are rather straightforward,” Patterson said. “It’s a phenomenal STEM curriculum product that’s expanding quickly. There’s extreme demand for it both here and abroad, and Accelerate is uniquely adaptable and customizable to customers’ needs, be those state standards or anything else.” Patterson hopes to use his position on the board to ensure Accelerate’s products retain the premium quality that has kept them so in demand.
According to Accelerate CEO Vernon Johnson, the company plans to use the funding to expand internationally, focusing on Central America and Europe first. It is already possible to switch Accelerate’s materials into Spanish.
“This investment is strictly growth capital,” said Johnson. “We’re fast expanding in the US, growing 50 percent year over year. Now it’s about getting to the opportunities and creating the infrastructure for the future and international expansion. We chose Owl Ventures because of their deep knowledge of the edtech industry.”
Johnson also plans bolster Accelerate’s product portfolio with the new funding. The week of May 30, the company’s Next Generation Science Standards products will receive a major facelift and content upgrade. He said the company will launch redesigned versions of many of its products and its navigation platform in August of this year and the rest in spring of 2017. The company recently launched an online store and the National Institute for STEM Education (NISE). The latter will receive a piece of Owl Ventures’ investment. The store offers digital and print resources, kits, certification in Accelerate’s products and other professional development.
The Institute helps STEM teachers develop their pedagogy through an online, competency-based course, and they can apply their certificate from the Institute to a degree from the American College of Education. It also assesses schools’ STEM pedagogy and helps them work toward a “Certificate of STEM Excellence” through six-month in-person evaluations and teacher training. Johnson says the Institute is curriculum and technology-agnostic. He does not intend for it to be a promotional arm of Accelerate Learning, though the Institute is housed within the company’s headquarters in Houston. According to him, more than 100 districts have already signed up for evaluations.