Renaissance Learning’s UClass Purchase Spells Golden Angels Windfall

Renaissance Learning today acquired UClass in a deal that expands the Wisconsin education software company’s capabilities and means a windfall for UClass’s Milwaukee-area investors.

Wisconsin Rapids-based Renaissance provides K-12 assessment software and analytics tools to educators in 60 countries, including more than a third of U.S. schools, it says. Founded in 1986, it has grown to nearly 1,000 employees worldwide. Google Capital grabbed a minority stake in Renaissance last year with a $40 million investment that valued the company at $1 billion.

Today’s acquisition gives Renaissance access to San Francisco-based UClass’s cloud storage and analytics technology for school districts’ curricula. UClass has accumulated more than 16 million pieces of “learning content,” such as lesson plans, instructional videos, and games that are pre-loaded into its database. The companies say that integrating their technologies will allow school districts to upload, share, and more easily map out their entire curriculum catalog—helping teachers better track students’ progress and present the right content at the right time for each individual.

“While we help educators map their students’ learning progress from the time they enter kindergarten to when they graduate, UClass helps districts map their entire curriculum catalog so that teachers can easily go from understanding what a student needs to delivering what instruction comes next,” Renaissance CEO Jack Lynch said in a press release.

Founded in 2012, UClass’s software is used by more than 5,000 schools. Its team will remain in San Francisco.

Although it has Silicon Valley roots and investors, UClass also pitched for funding outside California, and had raised $1 million in seed capital from Golden Angels Investors, a Milwaukee-area angel group; The Social+Capital Partnership; early Facebook employee Ezra Callahan; and other individuals.

UClass’s purchase price wasn’t disclosed, and Golden Angels founder and director Tim Keane declined to share the size of his group’s return on investment. But the 26 Golden Angels members who contributed about half of UClass’s $1 million in venture funding did “really well,” Keane says. “We’re very pleased,” he adds.

Golden Angels invested in UClass after inviting the startup to pitch at an edtech venture event staged by the investment group at its Brookfield, WI, offices in 2013. UClass CEO Zak Ringelstein and his team “blew away the room,” Keane says.

Keane, a UClass advisor, thinks Renaissance will be the “perfect channel” for UClass’s technology. “In terms of a home, I don’t think they can do better than Renaissance.”

The UClass exit comes as Golden Angels, Wisconsin’s largest angel investor group, seems to be increasingly looking outside the state for good deals. The group has backed several startups on the coasts in the past few years and has co-invested in four deals with Silicon Valley VCs Better Ventures and Owl Ventures, Keane says.

He’s bullish on the prospects for Golden Angels’ remaining portfolio companies, which include Madison, WI-based mobile gaming company PerBlue.

Golden Angels will “continue to do what we’re doing, which is be pretty disciplined about our investments. But we see a lot of good opportunity” in Wisconsin, the Midwest, and around the country, Keane says.

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