K-12 Dealmaking: Illuminate Education and ACT Make Acquisitions; Byju’s Lands $150 Million Investment

Associate Editor

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K-12 student performance system Illuminate Education acquires FastBridge Learning, an education research-driven company that distributes the Formative Assessment System for Teachers; and learning, measurement and navigation organization ACT acquires Mawi Learning, which offers PD and student curriculum focused on building social and emotional skills. Byju’s received a $150 million investment, led by the Qatar Investment Authority, with Owl Ventures joining the round.

Illuminate Education acquires FastBridge Learning. Illuminate Education, a K-12 student performance system, has acquired FastBridge Learning, a research-driven assessment platform, the two announced recently.

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but both entities are owned by Insight Venture Partners, said Christine Willig, CEO of Illuminate Education. This is the sixth company to be part of the Illuminate Education mega-merger that was announced one year ago.

FastBridge Learning was founded in 2015 by Theodore J. Christ and Zoheb Borbora, with scholarly contributions from educational researchers from the University of Minnesota and colleges of education around the country. Its Formative Assessment System for Teachers (FAST) combines curriculum-based measurement and computer-adaptive testing for reading, math, and social-emotional behavior. According to the company, it serves nearly 2 million educators and students across 45 states—including a statewide implementation in Iowa—and is committed to building knowledge and improving educational assessments.

The move to bring FastBridge Learning into the fold formalizes a long-time partnership between the two companies, allowing them “to influence each other’s roadmaps to make an even more cohesive experience for end users,” said Willig in an interview. FastBridge Learning’s experience with computer-adaptive testing is one example of how the acquisition will expand Illuminate Education’s capabilities, she said. (Willig is a member of the Board of Trustees for Editorial Projects in Education, the organization that produces EdWeek Market Brief.)

The strategy of the acquisition is to align “the technology, people, and processes required to support the whole child through data and a tiered instructional model,” according to Illuminate Education’s announcement. Based in Minneapolis, FastBridge Learning has 64 employees.

“A really important trend in our market is the multi-tiered systems of support,” said Terri Souter, CEO of FastBridge Learning, in an interview. “We can tackle this so much more holistically as a combined unit.” Schools implementing MTSS are usually trying to tackle both behavioral and academic concerns at the same time.

Adding FastBridge Learning also means a common user experience with single sign-on and navigation “to make usage increase,” she said. The two companies also share a commitment to interoperable solutions.

Illuminate Education, based in Irvine, Calif., said it serves 12 million students across 50 states. One year ago, five companies were combined to form Illuminate Education by Insight Venture Partners. At the time, the New York-based venture capital and private equity firm blended two of its holdings—Illuminate Education and Key Data Systems (KDS)—with IO EducationSchoolCity, and Alpine Achievement. The merged companies were united under the “Illuminate Education” corporate identity and created a combined platform.

ACT acquires Mawi Learning. ACT, the learning, measurement and navigation organization behind the ACT test, recently acquired Mawi Learning, an educator professional development and student curriculum focused on building social and emotional skills.

The terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Mawi Learning offers evidence-based social and emotional teaching and learning approaches. Its tools and services have been used by students in all 50 states and more than 1 million students worldwide, according to the company. Since it was founded in 2003, Mawi Learning’s goals have been to build a growth mindset, resilience, and foundational SEL skills.

“Mawi Learning’s mission and focus on improving social and emotional learning, along with its research-based approach, make it a natural fit for ACT,” said ACT CEO Marten Roorda in a statement. “Mawi Learning’s offerings also are closely aligned with ACT’s guiding principles: to be inclusive, transformational and holistic.”

Mawi Learning’s online and blended SEL courses are intended to help students and educators put SEL principles into action by leveraging grade-appropriate mental models, tools, and frameworks that build a foundation for success, both in and out of the classroom. With CASEL-aligned products that are designed to scale and customized to meet the unique needs of all learners and educators, Mawi Learning is ideally positioned to help all schools achieve their SEL goals.

For his part, Mawi Asgedom, the founder and CEO of Mawi Learning, said he was delighted about the acquisition. “As a former refugee and first-generation college student, I understand firsthand the importance of ACT’s commitment to education and workplace success for people of all backgrounds,” he said in the statement.

The acquisition of Mawi Learning is part of ACT’s efforts to transform the organization into a learning, measurement and navigation company, according to the organization. The goal of the expansion is to help improve individuals’ learning, measure their progress and improve their ability to navigate through life’s transitions. Over the past few years, ACT has also merged with ProExam, providing the foundation to introduce a suite of social and emotional learning assessments and solutions; acquired Knovation and OpenEd to provide the online content resources for personalized learning, including the ACT Academy; invested in Smart Sparrow to enter into adaptive learning, and collaborated with The NROC Project to create ACT CollegeReady, and acquired The National Research Center for College and University Admissions and the American College Application Campaign to help students with comprehensive navigation tools and resources.

Qatar Investment Authority leads a $150 million investment round in Byju’s.  Mobile learning app company Byju’s recently announced that it has received an investment of $150 million led by the Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar. This round also includes participation from Owl Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based investor in education technology.

This is Owl Ventures’ first investment in an Indian start-up, according to a statement from Byju’s.

This new round will support Byju’s’ aggressive plans of international market expansion and the creation of learning products for students across the globe, the company said.

 “We are happy to have strong partners like QIA and Owl Ventures on board with us. Investment from prominent sovereign and pension funds validates our strong business fundamentals,” said Byju Raveendran, the founder and CEO of Byju’s, in the announcement.

Further, the partnership will “support and strengthen our vision of creating and delivering personalized learning experiences to students,” Raveendran said, adding that it will help the company “explore and leverage our expertise in creating immersive tech-enabled learning programs for students in smaller cities, regions and newer markets.”

 “This investment underscores QIA’s strong commitment to the education sector,” said Mansoor Al-Mahmoud, CEO of the Qatar Investment Authority, in a statement.

 Owl Ventures’ Managing Director Amit Patel said, “With the world’s largest school-age population of 260 million, India’s education sector is at an inflection point.” The new partnership with Byju’s “reinforces our commitment to creating the best and most unique learning journeys for every student,” he said in the announcement.

Earlier this year, EdWeek Market Brief wrote about the anticipated impact Byju’s will have on the U.S. education market for consumers, and schools.

UPDATE: This blog post was updated July 10, 2019, to include news of the Byju’s investment.

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