Wave of Capital for Ed-Tech Startups Kairos, LearnBIG, Actively Learn

10/3/13Follow @bromano

It looks like an opportune moment for education technology entrepreneurs in Seattle. A trio of local startups has raised a combined $6 million in recent weeks to work on various aspects of e-learning.

Kairos 4, headed by Kristen Hamilton, most recently entrepreneur-in-residence at Seattle venture capital firm Maveron, has raised more than $4.3 million, according to an SEC filing.

Meanwhile, online course catalogue LearnBIG, co-founded and led by Victor Alhadeff, the man behind the Egghead Software retail stores and Boost eLearning, has raised $1 million from investors including Starbucks boss Howard Schultz, Alhadeff says. One more ed-tech company, Actively Learn, the developer of an online e-reading platform, has raised $675,000 out of a round that could be worth as much as $900,000, says CEO Jay Goyal.

There’s not much detail yet about what Kairos is working on. Hamilton, who co-founded early online retailer Onvia in 1997 and took it public in 2000, says on her LinkedIn page only this about the new effort: “Cooking up something and aspiring to impact.”

At Maveron, which she joined in March, Hamilton was looking for investments in for-profit education. Hamilton also did a stint heading Microsoft’s education strategy and was COO of international education nonprofit World Learning.

Hamilton

Hamilton

She didn’t respond to requests for comment, but we did get this statement from Maveron partner Clayton Lewis, a Kairos board member: “We’re excited for Kristen and her team, and for the new approach they have for closing the gap between what recent college graduates learned in school and what they need to launch a meaningful career. We are very bullish about their unique approach.”

(Maveron has several ed-tech companies in its portfolio, including Course Hero, Altius Education, Capella University, and Livemocha.)

Joshua Jarrett, an education expert and entrepreneur-in-residence at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is another board member.

Kairos, by the way, is a Greek word “meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment).”

At LearnBIG, Alhadeff and his co-founder and son Jeffrey Alhadeff want to help learners at all levels navigate the vast and expanding array of online educational resources.

“There’s just been an explosion in online content ever since Kahn Academy and [massive open online courses] came out,” Victor Alhadeff says.

Would-be students are struggling to find exactly what they need, he says. LearnBIG, which went live a month ago, allows teachers, students, and parents to search by subject, grade level, platform, and other factors. Similar offerings can be compared side-by-side. LearnBIG also can identify a curriculum based on the skills required for specific careers.

The eight-person startup recently closed a $1 million funding round from investors including Schultz, early Microsoft executive and golf course owner Scott Oki, Intel board member David Pottruck, and Costco CFO Richard Galanti, says Alhadeff.

The company plans to use the funding to prove its concept and begin to drive traffic to the site. From there, the company would look to raise additional venture capital, in support of building what Alhadeff describes as a “social educational site” with revenue from an online tutoring component, advertising, and affiliate marketing.

Goyal, co-founder of Actively Learn with Deep Sran, says the seven-person Seattle startup’s latest funding adds to a $270,000 grant from the Gates Foundation Literacy Courseware Challenge, and $10,000 from Pearson Catalyst, the incubator launched earlier this year by the education and publishing giant.

The funding—from angel investors in Seattle and elsewhere, and a content partner—will support continued development and marketing of the company’s platform for educational reading. Actively Learn allows teachers to imbed questions and other materials in public domain or uploaded digital texts, track how assignments align with the Common Core curriculum, and measure individual student and classroom progress. Students get a suite of tools to highlight particular passages, discuss texts with teachers and peers, ask for help, and more.

“We are going to completely transform literacy education, so students understand more, think critically, and build lasting skills,” he tells Xconomy in an email.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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