Renaissance Acquired by Francisco Partners, and New CEO Takes Helm

Senior Editor

The assessment and analytics provider Renaissance has traded one ownership group for another, announcing that it has been acquired by the private equity firm Francisco Partners.

Francisco Partners said it has reached an agreement to acquire Renaissance, the producer of the Star Assessments and other products, from the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman.

The move marks the latest in a busy period of leadership change and partnerships for Renaissance, headquartered in Wisconsin. Hellman & Friedman had acquired Renaissance – then known as Renaissance Learning – four years ago for $1.1 billion, in what was then one of the biggest deals in the history of ed-tech, and Renaissance has forged a number of deals aimed at expanding its reach since then.

As part of the new acquisition, Chris Bauleke, the former CEO of myON – a digital literacy company that was acquired by Renaissance earlier this year – will replace Daniel Hamburger as Renaissance’s CEO.

Hamburger, the former top executive at the for-profit higher education company Adtalem Global Education (formerly DeVry Education) had served as Renaissance’s CEO for less than a year. He will remain with the organization as a special advisor.

“Francisco Partners is the ideal partner for Renaissance through the next stage of the company’s growth,” Hamburger said in a statement. “Their deep commitment to education and technology will help the organization deliver on our purpose of accelerating learning for all.”

In an interview, Hamburger said Renaissance has set about over the past year to bolster its literacy, assessment, and other products through a run of new partnerships with other companies — about 10, by his count.

“What it means for our customers – students and teachers – is more,” Hamburger said of the acquisition by Francisco Partners. “More investment, more new products, more services.”

In Renaissance, the private equity firm acquires a company with “incredible reach and distribution” in the nation’s schools, as well as technical expertise, Hamburger said.

“The psychometric, predictive power of [Renaissance’s] Star suite of assessments” is a big asset, he said. “We have some special capabilities, some special technology capabilities, that really set this organization apart.”

Hamburger said he understood that Francisco Partners might want to put in place their own executive after the acquisition, as is common after a private equity firm takes over. He noted that Francisco has experience working with Bauleke, of myON.

“I knew it was a possibility that a buyer could have their [own] person,” said Hamburger said, quipping, “In fact, I’ve been that person in the past in other contexts…so I totally understand and support it.”

K-12 Market Shift

Jason Brein, a partner at Francisco Partners, said Hamburger and Renaissance officials had “mapped out a clear roadmap for continuing to support districts’ personalized learning and interoperability goals.”

Founded 18 years ago, Francisco Partners estimates that it has raised roughly $14 billion in capital and invested in about 200 companies, mostly in the tech sector. It says it invests in transactions valued at between $50 million and $2 billion.

The acquisition fits the profile of Francisco Partners, said Trace Urdan, a managing director at Tyton Partners, an investment banking and consulting firm. The private equity organization has shown an appetite for scooping up companies capable of producing academic content to meet the changing needs of schools, he said.

Over the past few years, there has been a breaking down of big publishers’ control over large swaths of the K-12 curriculum market, Urdan said. There has also been an opening up of state curriculum markets because of the shift to digital materials, and more local control over buying.

“Francisco is extremely experienced in education, and incredibly ambitious about the transition from [comprehensive curriculum] dollars to supplemental dollars,” Urdan said. “Renaissance can build a lot of additional services and curriculum content.”

With it’s distribution and sales reach and tech knowledge, Renaissance is strong at “a lot of the things that smaller companies struggle with,” he said.

MyON and Renaissance joined forces this March, when Renaissance announced that it was acquiring the provider of literacy products.

At the time, Hamburger said that the two companies began talking about working together shortly after he took over as CEO. Renaissance and myON officials said the acquisition would allow the companies to fashion a complimentary lineup of literacy products for K-12 systems.

The pairing creates “an all-encompassing reading practice solution,” Hamburger said at the time. “The logic was compelling. It just made so much sense.”

In addition to acquiring myON last year, Renaissance announced that it was forming a strategic partnership with the major publisher and content provider Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Renaissance said it would integrate data from one of the assessment and data products, Renaissance Flow 360, within HMH’s curriculum.

This post has been updated.

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