K-12 Dealmaking: Sphero Acquires littleBits; Coursera Makes First Acquisition

Associate Editor

In recent dealmaking news, the robotics company Sphero has acquired littleBits, a company that invented an electronic building block. And online education company Coursera, which raised $103 million in Series E funding earlier this year, acquired startup Rhyme Softworks.

Sphero acquires littleBits: Sphero, a robotics and educational STEAM company, recently announced its acquisition of littleBits, a company that invented an electronic building block.

The combined sales of Sphero’s robots and littleBits’ kits amount to $500 million to date, and their products reach over six million students across 35,000 schools globally, the two companies said in a release.

Sphero, with the addition of the littleBits line, will now feature a portfolio of over 140 patents in robotics, electronics, software, and the Internet of Things, according to the Boulder-based company.

Teachers will have access to hundreds of thousands of community-generated inventions and activities, and over 1,000 lessons tied to the Next Generation Science Standards, as well as the Computer Science Teachers’ Association and Common Core State Standards.

“Sphero and littleBits are on a mission to make hands-on learning fun and memorable,” said Paul Berberian, Sphero’s CEO in a statement. “Together, we’re able to make an even greater impact by delivering the best possible solution — whether it is programming a robot to solve a maze or building an electronic music synthesizer. There are infinite learning possibilities — and they’re all fun.”

“When I studied engineering, it was top-down, test-based,” said Ayah Bdeir, the founder of littleBits. “I hated it and wanted to quit every semester. Then I got exposed to the pedagogy of learning through play and my life changed; no one could peel me away from learning, inventing, creating. Together, littleBits and Sphero are now bringing this experience to kids everywhere.”

With this deal, Sphero plans to accelerate international growth and acquire other products and companies to further expand its portfolio of STEAM products and tools. The company will have offices in Boulder, New York, and Hong Kong with Paul Berberian as CEO. Ayah Bdeir will be moving on from littleBits.

Coursera makes its first acquisition, buying Rhyme Softworks. Coursera, an online education platform, announced the launch of Coursera Labs to increase hands-on learning capabilities, and with it, the acquisition of Rhyme Softworks, an online platform for hands-on projects based in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Using Rhyme’s virtual machines, beginner to intermediate-level learners can follow along with self-paced or live-guided sessions while simultaneously completing a project or assignment—from one browser using pre-configured Windows or Linux cloud desktops, according to a blog post by Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda.

“Rhyme truly embraces the concept of ‘learn by doing’ and, moving forward, we see big opportunities to use Rhyme to extend the capabilities we’ll offer with Coursera Labs,” Maggioncalda wrote in the post. “With this acquisition, we will also expand Rhyme’s office in Sofia, Bulgaria to focus on Labs-powered innovation efforts.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Earlier this year, Coursera raised $103 million in Series E funding. TechCrunch puts Coursera’s current valuation at over $1 billion.

Coursera Labs will allow partners to create hands-on projects using almost any third-party software application. The projects can be standalone or integrated into courses. Coursera Labs allows learners to seamlessly work on projects and assignments in a browser without any environment setup or software downloads. Instead, clicking a button allows users to instantly work on programming assignments.

In addition to programming, educators can also create custom applications in the Labs environment to help learners practice and apply skills in business, marketing, and humanities, the company said in its announcement.

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