Nearpod raises $21 million to turn mobile devices into a teaching tool rather than classroom distraction

Lora Kolodny

Nearly 80% percent of American adults have smartphones these days, according to Pew Research. And the kids are catching up, studies from the Kaiser Family Foundation suggest. Now, an education tech startup called Nearpod has raised $21 million in venture funding to help teachers turn mobile devices into a positive force for learning in the classroom, rather than a distraction they must fight against.

Nearpod CEO Guido Kovalskys, who cofounded the company with Felipe Sommer and Emiliano Abramzon in 2012, described the startup’s products as: “Software and content that teachers can incorporate into their day-to-day instruction without any additional work.” The company’s platform is free for teachers to use, but they, or more often their schools or school districts, pay for access to Nearpod’s premium lessons and features.

Generally, teachers can use Nearpod to create their own interactive lessons, virtual field trips and quizzes to be distributed live to students’ mobile devices in the classroom. They can also opt to use “ready-to-teach” lessons, aligned to meet federal and state standards, from the Nearpod library. Currently, the startup offers about 3,500 lessons.

Kovalskys said Nearpod will spend a good chunk of its Series B capital on hiring and developing more proprietary digital content for its library. It creates some lessons in-house, but also works with publishing partners to offer lessons exclusively designed for the Nearpod platform. Past partners of Nearpod have included Common Sense Education, which offered back to school, “digital citizenship” curriculum, and LearnZillion, which offered math and English language arts courses via Nearpod.

With a focus on K-12 schools in English-language speaking markets, Nearpod is growing at a rapid clip and claims to reach one in ten K-12 schools in the US today. Some educators have used the Nearpod platform to develop corporate training modules, for example, or lessons for college classes, but the company does not provide customer service support to these users today.

Nearpod’s Series B round was led by Insight Venture Partners, a frequent investor in education technology. The firm’s previous investments in this space have included Instructure, a now publicly-traded company that makes a popular learning management system called Canvas, and Capella Education. It is also an equity investor in Pluralsight, which provides online training for developers and other IT professionals and several other edtech startups.

Nearpod’s earlier backers also participated in the series B round including: Reach Capital, GSV Acceleration, Krillion Ventures and AGP Miami also participated in the round. With the funding, Insight Venture Partners’ Brad Twohig, Peter Segall and Nikitas Koutoupes joined Nearpod’s board of directors.

Koutoupes said, “There is a perception that edtech is a tough market because education is regulated, sales cycles are long and so on. But once you begin to gain traction it is a substantial market and one where you can make a very positive social impact.”

Nearpod faces competitors including other funded startups like ClassDojo and Socrative who are vying to become the teachers’ most essential tool for reaching students in the post-mobile and –social era of learning.

The investor said IVP was impressed with Nearpod’s high Net Promoter Score, an indication of how satisfied its customers are with the company’s products. “The acid test for Nearpod is always going to be how happy do they make teachers? If they continue to focus on things like whether teachers are happier with this tool than without it, and will they recommend it to peers, they will continue to succeed.”