One of the hottest edtech startups in town has some new cash to play with. And it will probably need every cent, if it wants to realize its vision of transforming K-12 education with data and analytics.
Boston-based Panorama Education has raised a $12 million Series A venture round, most of it from new investors Owl Ventures and Spark Capital. The company previously raised $4 million from Mark Zuckerberg’s Startup:Education fund, Google Ventures, Y Combinator, and other investors.
Panorama’s new investors are an interesting mix. Owl Ventures is a West Coast firm that specializes in edtech startups. Its founding team came from Catamount Ventures and previously backed companies such as EdSurge and Boston-area math education firm TenMarks, which was bought by Amazon in 2013.
Spark Capital is an East Coast firm (mostly), with investments in high-profile consumer-tech companies like Twitter, Tumblr, Oculus, and Wayfair. Spark is not known for making a ton of edtech investments, but it has backed Andela in global tech training, peerTransfer in international tuition payments, Socratic in e-learning, and 5min Media, an early player in how-to videos.
Panorama went through the Y Combinator accelerator program in 2013 and is tackling data collection in K-12 schools. The 36-person company makes software that school districts and administrators can use to run surveys of teachers and students and make sense of the results (around issues like safety, culture, and morale). The big goal: to help schools and districts understand their strengths and weaknesses, and then act on the survey specifics.
“We want to be the one-stop shop for all your data, and for supporting your school and making your school better,” says Panorama CEO and co-founder Aaron Feuer, who is a product of the Los Angeles public school system and Yale University. (He’s pictured above on the left, with co-founder Xan Tanner.)
Panorama says it has begun partnerships in the past year with big school districts in Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle, and other cities. The company’s software is currently used in 220 U.S. school districts, including 14 of the largest 100, Feuer says.
The next step for Panorama, he says, is “really working to expand our product” beyond surveys and into “analytics and action.” That means not only identifying all the issues that a school is worried about, but also “having people figure out what to do next” and being “more of a trusted advisor” without becoming a consulting firm, he says. The key to scaling up such a service to hundreds of thousands of teachers and administrators will be some form of automation and/or online community and tools that let educators share best practices effectively.
Of course, it will also take more manpower. With its new money, Panorama is looking to hire team members across engineering, products, design, sales, marketing, and research—an eclectic mix of talents, particularly for a young startup.
What’s interesting to investors is that a data-driven approach could be applied to K-12 schools—a huge mainstream market, not a niche play—if the software is easy enough to use and has real impact on things like student engagement and teacher retention.
The question is how long that will take, and whether investors will have the patience to stick it out—not only for Panorama, but for other companies trying to bring analytics tools to education.
Feuer sees a huge challenge ahead, but he thinks Panorama will make a “really serious dent” in the market over the next three to five years. One atypical metric he says he’s looking to deliver: “Here are a thousand stories about how we’ve made schools better.”
Panorama is not alone in its quest. Other Boston-area companies working broadly in the K-12 market include Tripod, Education Modified, Ellevation Education, Hstry, Playrific, Curriculum Associates, and big publishers like Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Cengage Learning.