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Knewton Lands $33 Million In VC Funding, Including From Founder’s Funders: Peter Thiel & Sean Parker

By on October 19, 2011
Domestic, Education Quality, Graduate, K-12, Private, Public, Publishers & Curriculum, Required, Startups, STEM, Technology, Universities & Colleges, Venture Capital



by Anuj Biyani via Flickr under Creative Commons

Education startup Knewton reeled in $33 million in venture capital funding last week, led by Founders Fund and  Publishing giant Pearson. Returning investors include Accel Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, and FirstMark Capital.

Founders Fund, of course, includes money from several heavy hitters, including PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel, PayPal leaders Luke Nosek and Ken Howery along with Sean Parker, the Napster founder who also has a hand in Plaxo, Causes and Facebook.

So why did Knewton get the attention of these guys alongside startups like Spotify, SocDoc and SpaceX?

“Knewton is poised to become a global lynchpin in online education and, more importantly, to improve education for everyone,” said Luke Nosek, Managing Partner of Founders Fund. Knewton says its new financing will accelerate its expansion of the company’s Adaptive Learning Platform(TM), which transforms third-party educational content by personalizing it to each individual student.

Knewton’s technology can remix a publisher’s or school’s educational materials to match each student’s strengths, weaknesses, and unique learning style. The company says its Adaptive Learning Platform(TM) boosts student learning and retention, supercharging homework so that teachers see better-prepared students in class. One of its key applications is to GMAT test preparation.

Knewton launched two first-year college math courses - College Mathematics and College Algebra - plus a self-paced Math Readiness for College(TM) course. That could be a crucial product for improving remedial education in the U.S. as well as for standardizing early preparations for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) efforts. Knewton’s web site explains it’s market:

Knewton is a technology company based in NYC. Our Adaptive Learning Platform™ customizes standardized educational content to meet the unique needs of each student. Knewton analyzes learning materials based on thousands of data points—concepts, structure, difficulty level, media format—and uses sophisticated algorithms to piece together the perfect bundle of content for each student, every day.

The more students who use the platform, the more accurate it becomes. It’s similar to Pandora’s music recommendations or Google’s search results. Last year we were named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum, following in the footsteps of companies like Twitter, Firefox, and Paypal.

Today, students in 190 countries are learning using The Adaptive Learning Platform™. Colleges and universities are solving long-standing remediation problems with Math Readiness for College™ and students across the globe are using our GMAT, LSAT, and SAT prep courses to get ready for test day.

Knewton is partnering with non-profits and for-profit colleges ranging from Arizona State University to Mount St. Marty’s University and Education Management Corp. It plans to expand it’s university partnerships and also in the K-12 schools. It says it will double its current team of 70 employees in the next 18 to 24 months, focusing on hiring software engineers and data scientists.

“There’s a revolution brewing in education,” said Jose Ferreira, Knewton’s founder and CEO. “Between increased broadband and the rise of tablet computing, many more students are accessing their homework and even their classes online. In so doing they are producing unfathomable quantities of data.”

Mr. Ferreira founded the company in 2008. He is a former executive at Kaplan.

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