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February 27 2014

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February 10 2014

McGraw-Hill Buys Engrade For ~$50M As It Moves Away From Textbooks, Towards A Future Of SaaS
FotoFlexer_PhotoThis week, Engrade put the finishing touches on an emblematic story in the world of education startups. High school student Bri Holt heard enough complaining from classmates (and teachers) about the fact that there were no good tools to let them view their grades online. So, having taught himself some web development skills, he decided to build a simple online gradebook for his school. Holt’s gradebook found favor among his teachers and at his school, but it took time. Holt soon graduated and moved on to other pursuits. In 2010, seven years later, the online gradebook had found significant organic adoption among teachers, enough that Holt decided to officially turn it into a business and expand it into something larger — Engrade. Fast forward to this week, and publishing giant McGraw-Hill Education agreed to purchase Holt’s online gradebook — now better known as Engrade — for what TechCrunch hears from sources was around $50 million. To education entrepreneurs, it’s an enviable outcome and a path (albeit perhaps not a totally replicable one) worth emulating. All in all, the process, from founding to sale, took over 10 years. Building and selling an education company (for any real return) takes years, maybe even decades. If you build something that solves a problem and that your customer really needs, adoption and customer acquisition will happen for you. Teachers love simple tools that make their lives easier, and if you build one for them, and work with them to improve it, they’ll take care of you. In the end, it appears to be a positive outcome for Engrade’s founders, its team and its investors. The company had raised about $8 million total over two rounds, including from NewSchools Ventures, Zac Zeitlin, Expansion Venture Capital, Kapor Capital, Javelin Venture Partners, Rethink Education and Samsung Ventures, among others. But what’s Engrade and what does it do? Saying that all entrepreneurs need to do is build, amazing tools for their customers, and they’ll have it made makes it sound easy. It’s not, and in education, it’s even harder. Building a simple, well-designed online gradebook is all well and good, but Engrade wasn’t alone. Others were trying to do the same — and building great products at that — but many of them were forced to pivot or join up with other tools to build an education suite. Plus, in the end, a gradebook is more feature than

February 06 2014

MissionBit’s Volunteer Hackers Close The Computer Science Education Gap In SF’s Schools
missionbitA couple days a week, 25-year-old Brian Clark (pictured above to the left) takes the Muni’s T line in from Bayview, where he lives in a house full of other founders through the NewMe Accelerator program. Yes, he’s a pretty recent computer science graduate from University of Michigan. Yes, he’s new to San Francisco and just moved here six months ago from Detroit. Yes, he’s tinkering around with startup ideas and he moonlights at hackathons for rent money. No, he’s not some entitled techie douchebag. He takes the train in several days a week because he teaches free after-school classes on web development and programming to students across San Francisco’s public schools. Even though he jokes every once in awhile about how broke he is, Clark has spent hours designing and developing curriculum for the new San Francisco non-profit running these classes, MissionBit. Last semester, MissionBit’s students made a Nazi Zombies vs. Robot Dinosaurs game, a chat client and another program that visualized audio tracks through Philip Hue lights. About 90 percent of them had never written a line of code before they started. MissionBit brings in developers from the industry to teach pro-bono classes and they’ll have 70 middle and high school students this semester. Only five of the 17 high schools in the San Francisco Unified School District offer computer science classes, meaning that students are missing out on learning highly employable skills in web development despite living in the global capital of the technology industry.  “Initially, I was just frustrated with public school education and I was looking for a way to give back and put energy into improving it,” said MissionBit’s founder Tyson Daugherty. Last August, Daugherty partnered with another San Francisco non-profit called Out of Site that already had a relationship with the school district to offer free after-school arts classes. In their first semester last fall, they started with a beginning programming class for 15 students. Demand was so overwhelming that they ended up with 25 kids on the wait list. This semester (their second one), MissionBit has more volunteer instructors than it can handle. “The amount of good will that is being demonstrated from these awesome technologists and some very high-powered people is pretty inspiring,” Daugherty said. In a class I ended yesterday, there was one instructor for every two students. “Why are we here?” asked Matt Wescott, the lead instructor for that day. “To learn,”

February 05 2014

Bootcamp Regulators? Why A “Code Of Conduct” For Coding Academies In California Could Be A Good Thing
Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 2.21.00 AMThe explosion in both online and offline programming platforms over the last year has made one thing clear: Learning to code is hot. (With two “t’s.”) Well, that and the fact that our traditional education system doesn’t seem to be pulling its weight as far as computer science education is concerned. (See here.) Literally, hundreds of hacker academies and “learn to code” schools have emerged, each promising to teach aspiring developers and engineers to speak the language of programming, and even to get a job. Furthermore, there’s no better indication of the fact that a potentially disruptive model has entered the world — or that these new hacker schools are more than just passing fancy — than when the government steps in with regulation. Last week, that’s exactly what happened in California, as VentureBeat reported that the BPPE, a division within the California Department of Consumer Affairs, had sent cease and desist letters to seven of these hacker academies. The Shock As the story went, these C&D letters essentially threatened the seven schools with $50,000 fines and imminent closure were they not to comply with the BPPE’s list of demands. Naturally, this ignited an uproar within the tech industry (case in point), with that reaction essentially taking the shape of, “How dare the government hinder these fledgling platforms?” It’s not an unfamiliar response from a community focused on tearing down walls, on pushing boundaries, and it wouldn’t be the first time a government body were found acting as a hindrance rather than a help. Confusion and enmity would also be an understandable reaction from the coding schools themselves. For these platforms, there’s a lot at stake in the apparent laundry list of expected compliances: There’s the threat of closure, the $50K fine, and then there are the months it could potentially take for the platforms to meet those regulatory demands, and the implicit possibility of bankruptcy as they wait for government approval. What’s more, the list of expected compliances has been mostly hazy up to this point. Given that the thrust of these regulations stem from the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009 — and that the BPPE itself owes its origins to both that legislation and its perceived reputation as a “diploma mill” in the ’80s — one can understand that the headlines up to this point have mostly focused on the impending doom of these platforms and
Khosla Leads A $10.5M Round For Tapingo To Bring Mobile Food Ordering To A Campus Near You
in crust we trustThere are dozens of ways for people today to look for and order food online, but one startup that is focusing on how to do this best for a specific vertical has found a competitive edge. Tapingo, which has created mobile apps for  iOSAndroid and Facebook targeting hungry college students, is today announcing a $10.5 million round of funding led by Khosla Ventures.

February 04 2014

Atlassian And Room To Read Have Raised $3M To Help Educate Children In Developing Countries
RoomToReadAs mobile devices become increasingly common, the world's largest tech companies are focused on grabbing the next billion users by targeting developing economies. But it's easy to forget that many of those countries still suffer from low literacy rates. There are over 700 million illiterate adults in the world, or about 16% of the global population. Since 2000, Room to Read, a charity founded by former Microsoft executive John Wood, has launched educational programs in some of the world's poorest countries. Today it announced that the Atlassian Foundation, which first partnered with Room to Read in 2009, has raised $3 million for the charity with its starter license program.
Red Hot Remind101 Gets $15M From John Doerr To Bring Free, Secure Text Messaging To Teachers
Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 2.41.01 AMBrothers Brett and David Kopf launched Remind101 out of Imagine K12 in late 2011 to tackle what they saw as one of the key problems in primary education: The lack of simple, user-friendly tools that help teachers better communicate with both students — and their parental units. Today, in spite of how critical effective communication is within the K-12 learning equation, schools continue to rely on intercoms, PA systems, paper-based permission slips and phone trees. In other words, the same tools they’ve used for 50 years. Remind101 released mobile apps for Android and iOS last year to help bridge that communication gap, creating a mobile platform that enables teachers to send reminders to students and parents via text and email — be they about permission slips or deadlines — and that acts as a secure, private communications network. The app caught on quickly among teachers and the demand hasn’t slowed down since. By September of last year, Remind101 had six million teacher, student and parent users, a number which today has grown to 10 million, and over 65 million messages are being sent via the Remind101 platform each month. The 10 million user number puts the startup in exclusive company in the education technology world — a fact which has not gone unnoticed by investors. That’s why today, a little over four months after it closed $3.5 million in series A financing from Social + Capital, Yuri Milner, Maneesh Arora and a handful of angel investors, Remind101 is adding another lump of coin to its coffers. Today, the startup announced that it has closed a $15 million Series B round, led by Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, with additional participation from its previous investors, including Social + Capital and First Round Capital. As a result of the round, Kleiner partner and veteran investor John Doerr will be joining the startup’s board of directors, alongside Social + Capital founder, Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined the board as part of Remind101′s Series A investment. Although Kleiner Perkins has had its ups and downs of late, adding a veteran investor like Doerr is a big win for the two-year-old startup. While his own investment record, as we’ve noted before, isn’t perfect, there’s a reason that Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page has been quoted as saying that Doerr “sees the future first.” Doerr has been a Kleiner partner since 1980, and has backed companies
Getting Girls Into Programming, One Children’s Book At A Time
liukasI normally dislike writing about the issue of women in the technology industry. The media either ends up treating female entrepreneurs with kid gloves or the conversation ends up in some emotionally charged place where people feel angry or violated. And then we’ve made little progress. Are there systematic biases embedded in the industry? Are women not leaning in hard enough? Do we not have enough role models? All of the above? One thing is clear, however. There are just not enough women in the pipeline starting from as early as K-12 schools. If less than 20 percent of computer science degrees are awarded to women in the first place, how can we expect a proportionate number of women to move forward into entrepreneurship or engineering careers? So that’s why it’s refreshing to see someone intervene at such an early stage, and in such a playful, delightful way. Linda Liukas, who founded an educational non-profit called Rails Girls that has taught programming skills to women in 160 cities globally, has switched her attention to a younger set. She’s authoring an illustrated children’s book called “Hello Ruby,” to get girls into coding. And by girls, I don’t mean women in a pejorative sense. I actually mean girls, as in little girls from ages 5 to 7. Liukas says she came up with the idea of her little red-haired protagonist, Ruby, while teaching herself programming. “I would use the Ruby character as a reference. How would she explain object-oriented programming?” she said. Liukas was a business student before she started Rails Girls, which originally was never intended to be a global phenomenon. It grew into a community that has reached 10,000 women through events and weekend workshops. She then went onto work for Codecademy, the New York-based startup that teaches people how to code. She said there’s this huge, untapped potential in younger girls that gets missed. “Teenage girls have such energy, this unhinged energy, that shouldn’t just be expressed in repeating or reblogging,” she said. “They should be creating instead of curating.” She remembered when she was thirteen and dabbled in web development by once making a “really ugly” website about Al Gore. “I was 13. I had all this teenage girl passionate energy and I was really, really, madly in love with Al Gore,” she laughed. She didn’t get back into programming or web development until more than a decade

February 03 2014

Flashnotes, A Peer-To-Peer Marketplace For College Study Materials, Picks Up Another $3.6M
lecture hallAmid the rush of attention that online education is getting from the tech world, universities, students and investors, a startup that focuses on content for brick-and-mortar classrooms has picked up more funding. Flashnotes -- a Boston-based marketplace for college pupils to buy and sell study notes and other online help for specific courses -- has raised a Series A of $3.6 million. It will be using the funds to expand its service across the U.S. to some 300 institutions in the next year; as well as to increase penetration in the schools where Flashnotes is already active.

January 31 2014

At UC Davis, Amazon Demonstrates A Novel Way To Bypass College Bookstores
Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 11.52.07 AMWhy should college students waste their precious party days standing in line, when they can order Ramen from Amazon Prime? The University of California at Davis recently inked a deal with Amazon to offer student essentials, from Calculus 101 textbooks to mac and cheese, on a new university bookstore website that gives 2% of sales back to the school. According to the school’s university paper, the Aggie, UC Davis was the first such partnership Amazon announced. The program is now officially a go this week, and UC Davis is giving Amazon the power to blanket the campus with promotion. There’s even an Amazon student ambassador “During finals week of Fall Quarter, we had several ambassadors all over campus handing out free pizza and other goodies to fuel the students while they study,” said fourth-year political science major, Ting Jung Lee said who is now acting as Amazon’s rep. The discounted Amazon Prime membership also seems to making the rounds on student boards: Students are awash with discretionary spending, which they normally spend in shops around the campus. Amazon sells most of these items and more, from dorm decorations to official t-shirts. So, it makes sense that the University wants to take a cut that they never took before with the sourranding shops. I’ve witnessed stunts like these work in the past. Back in my college days, I used to see college co-eds in short shorts handing out Red Bull at streaking events and during finals. For brands, college students are a demographic with delightfully transparent desires and well-known spending patterns. Amazon is aware of its Walmart/Godzilla reputation among struggling businesses. It attempted to partner with indie bookstores to sell its Kindle reading tablet, which got a mixed reception. College bookstores don’t have the same heartstrings to pluck, so it makes sense for them to partner rather than fight. With enough momentum from the UC Davis experiment, Amazon won’t just partner with bookstores, it will be the bookstore.
New European Edtech Accelerator Kicks Off Search For 10 Startups Eager To Disrupt The Classroom
european edtech incubatorAnother development in the European edtech ecosystem: early stage startups with a plan to disrupt education are being encouraged to apply to join a new incubator that will kick off its first programme this September.

January 30 2014

Index Ventures Joins $1M+ Seed Round Backing Mobile Education Platform Startup, Gojimo
GojimoIndex Ventures recently backed the computing education-focused hardware startup Kano -- via one of its partners, Saul Klein. Today the firm is putting some money behind a more mainstream education startup, called Gojimo, that's targeting mobile as a delivery and engagement platform for learning.
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