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Online study site StudyBlue raises $9 million

Series A-1 round led by Great Oaks Venture Capital

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
January 4, 2013 | Comments
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/2cad

(Updated to reflect comment from StudyBlue)

Online study site StudyBlue has raised a $9 million Series A-1 funding round, it was announced Friday.

The round was led by Great Oaks Venture Capital, with participation from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and existing investors. This is the first money raised by StudyBlue since a $3.65 million Series A round in October 2010, bringing the total raised to $14.7 million.

The money will be used to scale the team, by hiring mobile app developers, as well as front and back end developers, along with scaling the product, StudyBlue CEO Becky Splitt said in an interview with VatorNews.

Part of the mission will be to advance the product, she said, for example making the creation of studyguides "less cumbersome" by enhancing the crowdsourcing of content to users.

Founded in 2006, the Madison, Wisconsin-based company allows college students to list the classes that they’re taking, create notes, flashcards, and quizzes, and share with other students by providing them with a “digital backpack." The cross device platform allows students to pick up where they left off wherever they are, be it in class, on campus, waiting for the bus or even while eating breakfast. The site also offers a social angle by connecting students with classmates who list the same class on the website. 

StudyBlue says that it has the “largest and fastest growing library of student generated study materials” available for higher education, with over 100 million different study materials, ranging from anthropology to zoology.

The company offers studyguides and information from Middle School up to higher education. The service actually started on college campuses, and is now 70% college and 30% Middle School. 

Middle School has seen large growth, and Splitt attributes that to teachers becoming engaged with the service, putting information up and encouraging their students to use it. 

"They love that they have found a way to get their students to engage with the material outside of class," Splitt said, and the fact that it is mobile and social makes it much more appealing to students. 

The company currently has a user base today of more than 2.5 million who have created and shared 100 million study materials across the Web and iPhone, iPad (iOS) and Android apps. Over 1.5 million of StudyBlue’s current users have joined in just the last year. 

That rapid growth has come from word of mouth, Splitt said, as well as from SEO. The database, which has been built up over years, will come up in searches and lead to more people using the service.

While the company is not yet profitable, it did begin offering a premium service in September, as well as advertising, though Splitt says that no ads run during study sessions.

StudyBlue offers a premium service, either $1 or $5 per month respectively, or $5 and $30 per year. The cheaper option allows users to use an offline study guide, as well as ad removal. The more expensive service gives users access to what Splitt calls "power tools," including advances equations and advanced search,

The edtech space

Edtech is a rapidly growing space, with a bunch of different emerging companies that are attemtping to tackling it from different angles.

There is digital textbook provider Kno, which, after providing digital textbooks for higher education since 2010, announced in August that it will begin distributing a line of K-12 digital textbooks in partnership with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

BenchPrep, a digital test startup, closed a $6 million round of funding in July, before announcing a bevy of new partnerships with some of top publishers that will add more than 100 courses across BenchPrep’s high school, college, professional certification, and academic test prep offerings in August.

Then there is iSchool Campus, which  offers a “smart school” system to K-12 schools that integrates mobile devices across an entire school via a wireless network.  ISchool Campus announced that it raised $2 million of a total $4 million Series A round from Crocker Ventures in November.

So, with these other companies competiting in the same space, what sets StudyBlue apart from its competitors?

Splitt says that there are three things that set the company apart from these other companies. 

First is its cross-platform solution, which allows users to pick up where they left off on any device and pick it up on a different platform (iOS to Android, for example). It is also the only service, she said, that allows students to learn from each other by providing their own material.

Third, it is the large database of information that StudyBlue now has, which it compiled over years, that gives it an edge over its competitors. 

According to quotes from its investors, it the amount of traction that the company has been able to obtain, as well as the other investors it has attracted, which put it into a better position to continue to grow.

“We are really excited to be a part of the StudyBlue movement,” Andy Boszhardt, Partner at Great Oaks Venture Capital, said in statement. “The entire edtech industry is seeing tremendous growth and StudyBlue has particularly impressive traction in the space with over 2.5 million registered users who use its platform across a myriad of devices. They are in a perfect position to expand the audience of students they serve and we’re really pleased to be a part of that.”

“We’re pleased to support development of StudyBlue’s mobile education technology and view this as an opportunity to participate in an emerging segment of the educational technology market,” Carrie Thome, director of investments for WARF, said in statement. “We believe the combination of the strong management team and other investment partners including Great Oaks will help this homegrown technology find even broader acceptance among students nationwide.”

(Image source: http://edudemic.com)


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