By guest blogger Kevin Connors
As spring turns to summer, the air gets warmer, the days get longer, and the venture capital deals get bigger—or so it seems. From language learning apps to pay-per-view e-textbooks, here are your highlights:
Duolingo: Language-learning startup Duolingo raked in $45 million in a Series D round led by Google Capital that valued the Pittsburgh-based company at $470 million. The free app teaches students up to 13 languages, including Spanish, French, and English, by using game-like, personalized lessons and having them translate web content. Duolingo has more than 100 million users worldwide and is the most downloaded education app in iTunes and Google Play, according to Business Insider. Meanwhile, Duolingo for Schools, which allows teachers to use the app in their classroom, has more than 100,000 registered educators.
Maker Media: Following the launch of a new social network for the Maker community called MakerSpace, Maker Media raised $5 million from Azure Capital, Floodgate, OATV, Obvious Ventures, and Raine Ventures. The two-year-old company is a platform that connects makers “with each other, with products and services, and with our partners through media, events and e-commerce,” according to a statement announcing the venture capital raise. It promotes the Maker community through channels like its online publication Makezine.com, Maker Faire, Maker Camp, and Maker Shed, which offers tool kits for Makers. Funding will be invested in technology, infrastructure, and its video, mobile, and online initiatives. Coinciding with the recent funding round, Rafe Needleman, former Yahoo Tech editorial director, was named as editor-in-chief to lead Maker Media’s editorial team and digital content strategy.
Actively Learn: Seattle-based Actively Learn, a startup that facilitates annotation and critical reading skills for digital texts, raised $1 million in seed funding from undisclosed investors. The platform allows teachers to integrate questions and reading instruction, such as vocabulary help, into digital texts that they upload themselves, rent, buy, or access from Actively Learn’s digital library. A pro version of the tool also provides teachers a tracking system aligned with common core standards. The company’s website says that more than 300,000 K-12 students use Actively Learn in their English Language Arts, Science, and Social Science classes.
Packback: The digital textbook rental startup, which has been described as pay-per-view for textbooks, raised $1.5 million in venture capital. Packback allows students to rent digital textbooks for as little as $5 per day and is in use across more than 70 campuses, CEO Mike Shannon told Crain’s Chicago Business. The Chicago-based Shark Tank alum (skip to 31:20 for their segment) started four years ago on the campus of Illinois State University and plans to use the funds to increase its workforce and for the launch of a new product line called Packback Answers, a platform which allows students to interact with professors and other students. Hyde Park Angels led the round, with additional participation from Wintrust Ventures and previous investors Mark Cuban and Howard Tullman.
Rosetta Stone: Although this doesn’t fall under venture capital, here’s a partnership between Rosetta Stone and virtual education company Calvert Education that could impact world language instruction for high schoolers across the country. A new virtual language program called Calvert Advantage will integrate Rosetta Stone’s language program with the vocabulary, grammar, and literature components of Calvert’s virtual courses. Students receiving instruction from a certified teacher at an accredited institution will be eligible to receive course credit. Judy Verses, President of Rosetta Stone’s global enterprise and education division, said in a statement that the partnership “provides schools with a new blended learning option.” School districts will be able to offer Spanish II, III, as well as French I, for the 2015-16 school year.
For more news on mergers, acquisitions, and venture capital in education, follow Marketplace K-12’s “K-12 Dealmaking” series.