Edtech Business

'Clever' Edtech Deal

Oct 22, 2012

Education technology startup, Clever, said today it has clinched a$3-million seed round with top investors including Google, Ashton Kutcher,Mitch Kapor and long-time education financier, Deborah Quazzo, CEO of GSVAdvisors. That's a hefty round for edtech startups, which more typically raiseseed rounds under a million dollars.        

Evenmore compelling, however is that 2,000 schools have embraced Clever since itdebuted in late May in four schools.

Clever, which got its start at Y Combinator, aims to solve one of thegnarly problems that plagues just about every school: how to move student datainto any of the applications bubbling out of the high-tech community and how toensure that the data is accurate and current. It does this by building APIs toconnect independent software applications to a school's Student InformationSystem. "We're putting schools in control of their data and making iteasier to share it when they choose to," says Tyler Bosmeny, Clever'sco-founder and chief executive. 

It'sgot competition. In July, LearnSprout, which was hatched in the edtechincubator, ImagineK12, said it had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from investorsincluding Andreessen Horowitz, Formation 8 (headed by the co-founder ofPalantir), Benjamin Ling, Philip Fung, Luke Shepard, and others. LearnSprout hassaid that its software is used in more than 200 schools and is "growing nicely."

Connecting with schools' studentinformation systems is no small technology feat, in part because schools use asmorgasbord of about 100 systems. Clever and LearnSprout started by connectingwith widely used systems, such as Pearson's PowerSchool.Both companies say their software now can now connect with about 70% of theK-12 schools in the U.S.

Both Clever and LearnSprout offer theirproducts free to schools--but they have figured out who will foot the bill: othereducation technology software companies.

It'sa business model that--at least so far--pleases both schools and other softwaremakers. And that's because it’s the kind of technological plumbing that maymake it possible to achieve the highly vaunted goal of"individualized" or "personalized" learning.

Particularlyin schools where teachers may work with more than a hundred students over thecourse of a day, the concept of individualizing instruction involves carefullygauging what students know, how well they're absorbing new ideas orinformation, and then figuring out what they need to know to achieveproficiency or mastery of a topic. That means that just about every freshlyminted software product--whether it provides digital curriculum or manages ateacher's grade book--promises to provide analytics on student performance.

But before a teacher can use suchprograms, someone--either the teacher or a technology specialist--has to getthe names of all the students into the new program. Worse: someone has to makesure that once the student data is entered, it stays current and accurate, evenwhen students change classes or schools, or else the data is stranded.  

Chris Liang-Vergara, director of instructional technology at FirstLine Schools in New Orleans,says updating student data can soak up "hours a week," particularlyearly in the school year. "Updating that kind of information is a pain inthe neck," agrees Lynzi Ziegenhagen, vicepresident of technology for Oakland-based Aspire Public Schools and also co-founderof Schoolzilla, a data-managementcompany spun out of Aspire. Both confirm that using Clever's software has been"literally" a five-minute operation.

More fundamentally, too manysoftware products are designed as if they're the only product a school will use,Ziegenhagan notes. That can wind up overwhelming teachers or IT administratorswith a hodgepodge of analytics and data, none of which interact. She seesClever as working like glue.

Because a teacher or ITadministrator can precisely designate what data is shared with whom, Clevermakes it possible for a teacher to run short--and realistic--trials todetermine whether a software product might be effective in his or her class.

Clever,based in San Francisco, was founded by Dan Carroll, Tyler Bosmeny and RafaelGarcia, three former Harvard classmates. Carroll joined Teach For America;after two years, he became head of technology systems at West Denver Prep. Time and again, he hadbeen frustrated by the difficulty of managing student data. He tapped Garcia,who had been working in Chicago on commodities trading, specializing in machinelearning and working with large volumes of data to build the API.

Bosmeny, who had been running salesat startup, PaperG, joined the trio to help run the business. In June, theywooed Matt Pasternak, another former TFA'er, away from high-profile edtechstartup, Junyo, to jumpstart relationships withmore schools  companies, Clever's board consists of itsthree cofounders. Other investors in this seed round include: John Katzman(founder of the Princeton Review, 2U and Noodle);  Aayush Phumbhra (founder of Chegg); Matt MacInnis (CEO ofInkling); Y Combinator as well as its partners (Jessica Livingston, Sam Altman,Harj Taggar, Garry Tan, Paul Buchheit and Aaron Iba); SV Angels; Mike Maples;Jeff Clavier and Bessemer.

Clever currently has partnershipswith 40 companies, including math curriculum company, DreamBox and MasteryConnect, which deliversassessment tools. For them, Clever has dramatically speeded up the once oneroustask of connecting to schools' data systems. Liang-Vergarasays that he's seen software vendors' eyes light up when he asks if they willuse Clever's API to connect to his school's data. "They say, 'That's aneasy step for us,'" and it works, he says. Vendors have been asking him toverify that Clever is sending them accurate data--and so far, he says, it'sbeen checking out. And when partners use Clever'ssoftware to connect with schools, they in turn, share a slice of the revenuethey make with Clever. 

"There's no greater challengethat a young software company faces that selling into schools," says DeborahQuazzo, chief executive of GSV Advisors. "Sellinginto the schools and districts via partners [with other software companies] isvery smart," she says. 

Editor's note: Investors included: SV Angel, Mike Maples of Floodgate,SoftTech VC’s Jeff Clavier, Google Ventures (Kevin Rose), Bessemer Venture Partners,Mitch Kapor, Ben Parr, Ashton Kutcher, John Katzman (The Princeton Review, 2tor and Noodle) Matt MacInnis (Inkling), Aayush Phumbhra (Chegg), and Deborah Quazzo (GSV Advisors) and Laurene Powell Jobs (Emerson).

Edtech Business

'Clever' Edtech Deal

Oct 22, 2012

Education technology startup, Clever, said today it has clinched a$3-million seed round with top investors including Google, Ashton Kutcher,Mitch Kapor and long-time education financier, Deborah Quazzo, CEO of GSVAdvisors. That's a hefty round for edtech startups, which more typically raiseseed rounds under a million dollars.        

Evenmore compelling, however is that 2,000 schools have embraced Clever since itdebuted in late May in four schools.

Clever, which got its start at Y Combinator, aims to solve one of thegnarly problems that plagues just about every school: how to move student datainto any of the applications bubbling out of the high-tech community and how toensure that the data is accurate and current. It does this by building APIs toconnect independent software applications to a school's Student InformationSystem. "We're putting schools in control of their data and making iteasier to share it when they choose to," says Tyler Bosmeny, Clever'sco-founder and chief executive. 

It'sgot competition. In July, LearnSprout, which was hatched in the edtechincubator, ImagineK12, said it had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from investorsincluding Andreessen Horowitz, Formation 8 (headed by the co-founder ofPalantir), Benjamin Ling, Philip Fung, Luke Shepard, and others. LearnSprout hassaid that its software is used in more than 200 schools and is "growing nicely."

Connecting with schools' studentinformation systems is no small technology feat, in part because schools use asmorgasbord of about 100 systems. Clever and LearnSprout started by connectingwith widely used systems, such as Pearson's PowerSchool.Both companies say their software now can now connect with about 70% of theK-12 schools in the U.S.

Both Clever and LearnSprout offer theirproducts free to schools--but they have figured out who will foot the bill: othereducation technology software companies.

It'sa business model that--at least so far--pleases both schools and other softwaremakers. And that's because it’s the kind of technological plumbing that maymake it possible to achieve the highly vaunted goal of"individualized" or "personalized" learning.

Particularlyin schools where teachers may work with more than a hundred students over thecourse of a day, the concept of individualizing instruction involves carefullygauging what students know, how well they're absorbing new ideas orinformation, and then figuring out what they need to know to achieveproficiency or mastery of a topic. That means that just about every freshlyminted software product--whether it provides digital curriculum or manages ateacher's grade book--promises to provide analytics on student performance.

But before a teacher can use suchprograms, someone--either the teacher or a technology specialist--has to getthe names of all the students into the new program. Worse: someone has to makesure that once the student data is entered, it stays current and accurate, evenwhen students change classes or schools, or else the data is stranded.  

Chris Liang-Vergara, director of instructional technology at FirstLine Schools in New Orleans,says updating student data can soak up "hours a week," particularlyearly in the school year. "Updating that kind of information is a pain inthe neck," agrees Lynzi Ziegenhagen, vicepresident of technology for Oakland-based Aspire Public Schools and also co-founderof Schoolzilla, a data-managementcompany spun out of Aspire. Both confirm that using Clever's software has been"literally" a five-minute operation.

More fundamentally, too manysoftware products are designed as if they're the only product a school will use,Ziegenhagan notes. That can wind up overwhelming teachers or IT administratorswith a hodgepodge of analytics and data, none of which interact. She seesClever as working like glue.

Because a teacher or ITadministrator can precisely designate what data is shared with whom, Clevermakes it possible for a teacher to run short--and realistic--trials todetermine whether a software product might be effective in his or her class.

Clever,based in San Francisco, was founded by Dan Carroll, Tyler Bosmeny and RafaelGarcia, three former Harvard classmates. Carroll joined Teach For America;after two years, he became head of technology systems at West Denver Prep. Time and again, he hadbeen frustrated by the difficulty of managing student data. He tapped Garcia,who had been working in Chicago on commodities trading, specializing in machinelearning and working with large volumes of data to build the API.

Bosmeny, who had been running salesat startup, PaperG, joined the trio to help run the business. In June, theywooed Matt Pasternak, another former TFA'er, away from high-profile edtechstartup, Junyo, to jumpstart relationships withmore schools  companies, Clever's board consists of itsthree cofounders. Other investors in this seed round include: John Katzman(founder of the Princeton Review, 2U and Noodle);  Aayush Phumbhra (founder of Chegg); Matt MacInnis (CEO ofInkling); Y Combinator as well as its partners (Jessica Livingston, Sam Altman,Harj Taggar, Garry Tan, Paul Buchheit and Aaron Iba); SV Angels; Mike Maples;Jeff Clavier and Bessemer.

Clever currently has partnershipswith 40 companies, including math curriculum company, DreamBox and MasteryConnect, which deliversassessment tools. For them, Clever has dramatically speeded up the once oneroustask of connecting to schools' data systems. Liang-Vergarasays that he's seen software vendors' eyes light up when he asks if they willuse Clever's API to connect to his school's data. "They say, 'That's aneasy step for us,'" and it works, he says. Vendors have been asking him toverify that Clever is sending them accurate data--and so far, he says, it'sbeen checking out. And when partners use Clever'ssoftware to connect with schools, they in turn, share a slice of the revenuethey make with Clever. 

"There's no greater challengethat a young software company faces that selling into schools," says DeborahQuazzo, chief executive of GSV Advisors. "Sellinginto the schools and districts via partners [with other software companies] isvery smart," she says. 

Editor's note: Investors included: SV Angel, Mike Maples of Floodgate,SoftTech VC’s Jeff Clavier, Google Ventures (Kevin Rose), Bessemer Venture Partners,Mitch Kapor, Ben Parr, Ashton Kutcher, John Katzman (The Princeton Review, 2tor and Noodle) Matt MacInnis (Inkling), Aayush Phumbhra (Chegg), and Deborah Quazzo (GSV Advisors) and Laurene Powell Jobs (Emerson).

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