Renaissance Learning Turns the Page with Purchase of Minnesota Firm

Renaissance Learning, a Wisconsin company that claims its cloud-based educational software is used in more than 70 countries, said earlier this week it had acquired Myon, a developer of tools designed to improve and assess students’ reading abilities.

Wisconsin Rapids, WI-based Renaissance, which focuses on K-12 education, said it plans to build applications that combine aspects of its software and Bloomington, MN-based Myon’s. However, both companies will also continue to sell products on a standalone basis, Renaissance said.

Renaissance CEO Daniel Hamburger said in a news release announcing the deal that the two companies plan to “accelerate the realization of our shared vision of instilling the love of reading in students around the world.”

Renaissance did not disclose financial terms of the deal in the release.

The company estimates that it and Myon together serve more than 20 million students across the globe. Following the acquisition, Renaissance has about 1,100 employees, a majority of whom are based in Wisconsin, a company spokesperson said.

Myon was previously owned by Francisco Partners, a San Francisco-based private equity firm. A year ago, Francisco Partners acquired Myon for an undisclosed sum from Capstone, a children’s book publisher that also develops digital reading tools.

Under Myon’s core business model, school districts pay to license the company’s software, which gives students unrestricted digital access to more than 13,000 books. Schools can configure Myon to let students download books when they’re at home and in other locations outside the classroom. According to a report by EdSurge, a trade publication, schools pay between $5,000 and $7,000 a year to use Myon, depending on the size of the student body.

More schools are equipping students with their own laptops and tablet computers. In 2013 and 2014, schools bought more than 23 million devices for their classrooms, Education Week has reported. Google also licenses applications in its “G Suite for Education” to K-12 schools, though the company has drawn criticism from parents and industry observers about Google collecting data on young students who use the applications.

In addition to e-books, Myon also offers a service that lets students read a selection of news articles each week that the company has deemed appropriate for their age and reading level. The service, Myon News, translates some articles into Spanish and French, the company says on its website.

Leaders at Renaissance viewed Myon’s products as an ideal complement to their company’s own tools for helping young people become better readers, Hamburger said.

Launched in 1986, Renaissance has like Myon been bought and sold by private equity firms in recent years. In 2011, the company was acquired by U.K.-based Permira Advisors for about $440 million in cash. In 2014, shortly after Google Capital plowed $40 million into Renaissance and took a minority stake in the company, Permira sold Renaissance to San Francisco-based Hellman & Friedman for $1.1 billion. At the time, it was one of the largest education technology acquisitions ever.

Renaissance’s purchase of Myon comes about three years after the Wisconsin company acquired San Francisco-based UClass. That deal brought a windfall to investors who had backed UClass, some of whom were based in the Milwaukee area.

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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