K-12 Dealmaking: Curriculum Associates Scoops Up SoapBox Labs; ParentSquare Acquires Remind

Staff Writer
K-12 dealmaking

Curriculum Associates is diving into speech-recognition technology by acquiring SoapBox Labs, a Dublin-based startup that provides education companies with voice-technology tools.

Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

Founded by speech engineer Patricia Scanlon in 2013, SoapBox uses a proprietary voice engine — built with AI technology known as natural language processing — to offer a speech-to-text tool for Pre-K-12 students.

Instead of selling the tool directly to schools or districts, however, the startup offers its technology to providers in the K-12 space, enabling them to build voice technology into their existing products. It reports having more than 50 education companies as customers, including ScholasticMcGraw Hill, Imagine Learning, Learning Without Tears, and Amplify.

Unlike other natural-language processing engines trained on adult voices, SoapBox says it built its engine using student voices.

Following the acquisition, Curriculum Associates will complete existing contracts with SoapBox customers, but does not plan to enter into new contracts with outside organizations, Curriculum Associates said in a statement to EdWeek Market Brief.

Unlike other natural language processing engines that are trained on adult voices, SoapBox says it built its engine using student voices as the training data. The aim, the company said, was to create a voice engine that works for students of all ages, accents, and dialects, and is able to adapt to their unique voices, speech patterns, behaviors, and environments.

The company says the tech can be used in a range of settings in the classroom, including helping teachers assess students’ literacy skills and screen for potential learning issues. It can also be used to support students as they learn a new language, practice multiplication times tables, or study science facts.

Since it was founded, SoapBox has raised about $10.4 million in funding, according to Tracxn data. Previous backers include the Irish government’s business development agency Enterprise Ireland, the European Union’s European Innovation Council, Irish investment firm Elkstone, and Astia, a global investment firm focused on supporting women founders.

In July, SoapBox received an undisclosed amount of funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a Spanish language voice engine.

Curriculum Associates, which offers instructional resources and assessment tools, said the acquisition will enable it to bring speech recognition technology into its existing online offerings, such as its flagship i-Ready math and reading program. The company aims to use the voice engine to support students learning to read, help multilingual learners build vocabulary, and allow teachers to monitor student progress.

“This groundbreaking partnership will bring state-of-the-art voice technology to more classrooms, helping to ensure every learner is set up for success,” Rob Waldron, Curriculum Associates CEO, said in a statement. “It will also deepen and expand an asset-based, inclusive approach to learning across our entire product line.”

Scanlon, who also serves as Ireland’s “AI Ambassador,” said the deal will allow SoapBox to expand their reach and further their mission to help students from all backgrounds access digital education tools.

“From the start, SoapBox has been on a mission to build voice technology that powers equitable, engaging, and frictionless digital learning experiences for all kids, regardless of age, accent, or dialect,” Scanlon said. “This partnership with [Curriculum Associates] will allow us to fulfill this mission for even more young students and their teachers.”

Martyn Farrows, CEO of SoapBox, said the deal is also a boost for the Irish government’s efforts to become a major player in the global tech ecosystem.

“We are excited about this partnership with Curriculum Associates, which will solidify Ireland’s reputation as a hub for AI innovation and give our team the opportunity to power better, more equitable outcomes for all students as they progress through their K–12 reading, language, and math journeys,” he said.

Communication tool providers set to merge. Family engagement platform ParentSquare acquired Remind, a communication tool for K-12 districts, the companies announced this week.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

ParentSquare — which is backed by private equity firm Serent Capital — said the two companies will merge under the ParentSquare name and will continue to focus its core business on school-home communications.

The companies plan to combine their teams and platforms, but Remind products will maintain their existing branding.

ParentSquare, based in Santa Barbara, California, allows districts and schools to integrate communications into school administration systems, translate messages into more than 100 languages, and send messages to families through the app, email, text, voice, and a web portal.

Remind, based in San Francisco, was founded in 2011 as Remind101 and raised about $59.5 million across six funding rounds, according to Tracxn. Past investors include Owl Ventures, GSV Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, First Round Capital, and Social Capital.

Remind’s platform offers teachers a way to text students’ families in their preferred languages, while keeping teachers and families’ phone numbers private. The two-way texting platform is offered for free to classroom teachers, and will remain free after the merger, the companies said. It will continue to make its paid communications platform for schools and districts, Remind Hub, available post-merger.

Remind will shutter one of its tutoring offering, Remind Tutoring, as part of its efforts to focus solely on family and community communication tools, they said.

The merger will allow the newly combined company to have a greater reach and build additional capabilities into their platforms, ParentSquare President and founder Anupama Vaid said in a statement.

“Remind has a very strong following with teachers, and ParentSquare has a strong unified platform for districts and the full school community,” Vaid said. “Together, we can advance both companies’ mission of increasing student success through improved communications and achieve more together than we could have individually.”

Communications tools play an important role in building strong relationships, which “are at the heart of student success,” Remind CEO Quenton Cook said in a statement.

“By focusing on communication and our combined strengths, we will be even more effective champions for teachers, parents and the broader school community,” he said.

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