The Power of Nonprofit Acquisitions: Curriculet Rises from the Dead

column | Mergers and Acquisitions

The Power of Nonprofit Acquisitions: Curriculet Rises from the Dead

By Mary Jo Madda (Columnist)     Jun 27, 2017

The Power of Nonprofit Acquisitions: Curriculet Rises from the Dead

Perhaps some edtech companies can get a second life.

Back in May 2016, Curriculet, a venture-backed startup that built a student-facing platform with digital books, articles and quizzes, announced that it was shutting its doors. In an interview with EdSurge, CEO Jason Singer spoke honestly with EdSurge editor Tony Wan about Curriculet’s biggest problems: “We had struggled with whether or not we had a viable, vibrant business for the long term.” In December, EdSurge reported that Curriculet had been acquired by the nonprofit edtech and research center Waterford Institute.

Now after months of quiet, Curriculet is reborn—and ready for action again. Today at the ISTE conference in San Antonio, Texas, the Waterford Institute re-released the revamped Curriculet platform.

Waterford Steps In—With New Features

The new version of Curriculet includes a facelift, reports Anne Brown, Vice President of Business Development and Education at the Waterford Institute including:

  • Students can now consume Curriculet’s books in a variety of formats—from the Curriculet eReader to an audio player. “You can also read them offline,” Brown says.
  • Teachers have new customization capabilities, where they can create their own curriculets (a text overlaid with questions and media), and then share it with colleagues.

While there are no immediate plans to bring back the more than 2,000 USA Today articles the original Curriculet product included, the Waterford team reports that currently, the total amount of books (and corresponding curriculets) is at 1,607 "and growing." And one other note: all personal curriculets previously created by individual users were deleted in June of 2016, but the platform still retains previous curriculets created by the original Curriculet team.

Giving teachers the ability to create their own content was an early goal of Curriculet—and one that was abandoned in early 2016 as the company tried hard to build a sustainable business model.

In its incarnation as an edtech company, Curriculet built its user base through a “freemium” model which offered some technology for free and charged for premium access. First Curriculum charged 99 cents for most of its books; later it tried charging an annual fee of $24 per student. Now, under Waterford, the cost for using Curriculet is moving to $8 per student per year and $50 per teacher per year (which gives teachers creation, sharing, and editing capabilities). The new Curriculet platform will be fully available in late August/early fall, in time for the school year.

From For-Profit… to Nonprofit

Waterford Institute, a nonprofit edtech and research center, was founded in 1976. Since then, the organization has predominantly produced literacy and STEM curriculum materials for Pre-K through 2nd grade students. By adding Curriculet, Brown notes, Waterford will now be able to serve students in grades 3 through 12.

“It fits well within our philosophy,” Brown says. “Now, instead of saying, hey, we’re done at 2nd grade, we’re able to extend our reach.”

For Singer, selling to a nonprofit made sense—especially because a place like Waterford had the resources to keep Curriculet alive. “I think Jason got to a point where he had to do something with the company, and he knew that if he gave it to us, we would shepherd it through and get it back to market,” Brown says. She adds that because of Waterford’s resources, those team members assigned to work on Curriculet have both time and resources to explore what the best features are for the education community that Waterford serves.

But what about the investors? While Singer couldn’t be reached for comment about Curriculet investors’ reaction to the acquisition, Brown is optimistic that no matter how investors reacted, this path ensures that the ones who ultimately benefit from Curriculet’s work aren’t adults—but instead, the students.

“When you’re a nonprofit, your goal is to be serving society. And so if or when a profit is made, it is reinvested in the program.”

Mary Jo Madda—@MJMadda—is Manager of Audience Development (previously Senior Editor) at EdSurge, as well as a former STEM middle school teacher and administrator. In 2016, Mary Jo was named to the Forbes "30 Under 30" list in education.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated with information from Waterford.

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