K-12 Dealmaking: Barnes & Noble Education, Harris School Solutions Make Acquisitions

Contributing Writer

In this week’s dealmaking news, Barnes and Noble Education purchased Student Brands, a subscription-based writing skills services business; also, Harris School Solutions, a provider of technology solutions for schools, acquired school management software provider JR3 WebSmart.

Barnes & Noble Education Acquires Student Brands: Barnes & Noble Education, a provider of educational products and services solutions for higher education and K-12 institutions, has completed the acquisition of Student Brands, a direct-to-student subscription-based writing skills services business, for $58.5 million in cash, according to a statement.

Student Brands is an education technology company that operates multiple direct-to-student businesses focused on Study Tools, Writing Help, and Literary Research, all centered around assisting students with the writing process.

The transaction builds on Barnes & Noble Education’s “strong growth momentum in digital learning, and will further enhance its ability to support partner schools’ retention efforts by helping students and teachers embrace technology tools that improve writing proficiency,” the company said in the statement.

The acquisition is Barnes & Noble Education’s second this year. In March, the company acquired MBS Textbook Exchange, LLC, a contract operator of virtual bookstores for the institutional client market and a used textbook wholesaler, for $174.2 million in cash.

“The acquisition of Student Brands enables [Barnes and Noble Education] to maintain and expand our leadership position in the distribution and provision of educational services and content,” said Kanuj Malhotra, COO of digital education at Barnes & Noble Education. “[Our company] serves one in four higher education students every year, and through our recent acquisition of MBS, we have expanded our market reach to even more students in both higher education and K-12. The addition of Student Brands and its nearly 100,000 subscribers will enable us to offer products and services directly to our current student base and beyond.”

Student Brands CEO Thomas Swalla added, “Barnes & Noble Education shares our mission to provide students with innovative solutions to solve a growing range of academic challenges. We are confident that this is an ideal combination and we are thrilled to begin working with our new colleagues.”

Student Brands will operate as a part of Barnes & Noble Education’s digital operations and will serve as its initial anchor asset for Barnes & Noble Education’s direct-to-student growth strategy. Swalla will remain CEO of Student Brands and the current Student Brands leadership team will join Barnes & Noble Education as full-time employees. Student Brands will retain its offices in Los Angeles, Calif. and India.

Harris School Solutions Acquires JR3 WebSmart: Harris School Solutions, a Bethel Park, Pa.-based provider of technology solutions for K-12 districts, charter schools, and continuing education programs across North America, has acquired school software provider JR3 WebSmart, LLC, according to a statement. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The WebSmart solution combines back-office school business management tools with a Student Information System (SIS) to allow separate departments within schools and districts “to work together more easily and accurately,” according to the company, while JDox simplifies digital document storage and retrieval for a user-friendly integration.

By acquiring the Waco, Texas-based school software company, “[Harris School Solutions] not only adds to its separate rosters of SIS software and Enterprise Resource Planners (ERPs), but also it will be able to further integrate its two lines to enhance user experience for current and future clients alike,” Harris said in a statement.

In February, Harris acquired Quintessential School Systems, a provider of administrative software and consulting services for educational markets.

Reading Partners Receives $1 Million: Reading Partners received a $1 million first-time grant from Ballmer Group to support the organization’s evidence-based early literacy intervention program in the 2017-18 school year.

Reading Partners is a national nonprofit organization that collaborates with local public schools and mobilizes community volunteers to provide students in under-resourced schools with the proven, individualized reading support they need to read at grade level by fourth grade.

Ballmer Group’s support will enable Reading Partners to build organizational reserves and augment operational functionality “to ensure the program continues to deliver strong performance results for students and is well-positioned for future growth, according to a statement from Reading Partners. In addition, the grant “will also immediately bolster Reading Partners’ efforts to inspire more volunteers to sign up to work one-on-one with low-income students learning to read.”

Ballmer Group was founded by former Microsoft CEO and Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and philanthropist and advocate Connie Ballmer with the goal of strengthening “promising and proven approaches that increase economic mobility for children and families in the United States.”

Tinkergarten Raises $5.4 Million: Tinkergarten, a provider of outdoor early childhood education, today announced that it has raised a $5.4 million Series A round of financing led by Owl Ventures, with additional investment from existing investors Omidyar Network and Reach Capital.

Tinkergarten offers a technology-enabled network of “leaders” that bring families together in a natural place in their community for classes where kids learn through play, the company explains on its website. Each class becomes a tight-knit group of children and adults who learn together through outdoor play-based activities.

“With the new funding, Tinkergarten plans to invest in its supporting technology, further enhance the learning experiences of young children and their parents, and help recruit more leaders to bring this unique, outdoor, play-based learning model to an even more diverse range of families,” the company said.

Northhampton, Mass.-based Tinkergarten has developed a technology platform to find, vet, train, and support its many leaders who run play-based outdoor learning classes.

This round brings the total capital raised by the company to $8.3 million, with early support from Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, Blue {Seed} Collective, City Light Capital, Plum Alley, 500 Startups, Outbound Ventures, Structure Capital, Vista Venture Partners as well as John Katzman (Princeton Review, 2U, Noodle), Don Katz (Audible), Matt Glickman (BabyCenter), and Albert Lee (MyFitnessPal), among others, the company noted.

EFP Partners With Blackboard: Chicago based-Education Funding Partners has formed a partnership with education technology and services company Blackboard aimed at enabling school districts nationwide to generate a sustainable, new revenue stream through digital advertising on district and school websites, according to a statement.

EFP creates marketing partnerships between national companies and the K-12 public school community; the company engages brands like Microsoft, Target, Walmart and Shutterfly, who want to reach parents and teachers through school district websites.

Be sure to check back on Marketplace K-12 for updates on mergers, acquisitions, fundraising, and other dealmaking.


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