July 11, 2012 at 17:38 PM EDT
Andreessen-Backed LearnSprout Wants To Help Developers Unlock Educational Data
APIs are marching into education, and it's about time. Education is rife with legacy infrastructure, with one of the primary offenders being Student Information Systems (SIS). Schools use these systems to store huge amounts of sensitive student information (class lists, attendance, grades and allergies, etc.), but they differ widely from school to school, which, among other things, forces developers to manually integrate with each unique system, making it difficult for their cool educational software or apps to achieve any kind of scale. LearnSprout , a recent graduate of the education-focused startup accelerator Imagine K12 wants to help both schools and developers unleash those opaque educational data silos with the help of a few clean, standardizing APIs. While the recently-launched startup is not alone -- Y Combinator-backed Clever launched a similar platform last month -- LearnSprout now has the benefit of some notable investors to help fuel its fires.
Screen shot 2012-07-11 at 11.48.49 AM

APIs are marching into education, and it’s about time. Education is rife with legacy infrastructure, with one of the primary offenders being Student Information Systems (SIS). Schools use these systems to store huge amounts of sensitive student information (class lists, attendance, grades and allergies, etc.), but they differ widely from school to school, which, among other things, forces developers to manually integrate with each unique system, making it difficult for their cool educational software or apps to achieve any kind of scale.

LearnSprout, a recent graduate of the education-focused startup accelerator Imagine K12 wants to help both schools and developers unleash those opaque educational data silos with the help of a few clean, standardizing APIs. While the recently-launched startup is not alone — Y Combinator-backed Clever launched a similar platform last month — LearnSprout now has the benefit of some notable investors to help fuel its fires.

The startup is in the process of closing its first round of funding with participation from Andreessen Horowitz, Formation 8 (a new VC fund headed by Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale), Benjamin Ling, Philip Fung and Luke Shepard — to name a few. LearnSprout is in the process of adding a few more investors and is hoping to cap the round at around $1 million.

LearnSprout is also one of eight companies (and the only education startup) to be accepted into the inaugural cohort of Code For America’s accelerator program, which provides early-stage businesses with a grant, mentoring, and introductions to tech-savvy decision makers in local and federal government in an effort to help them grow civically-minded businesses.

Founded in January this year by Franklyn Chien, Anthony Wu, and Joe Woo, veterans of Facebook, Google, and Microsoft respectively, today LearnSprout is already working with 40+ schools and another 200+ schools are in the pipeline, and it’s begun to generate revenue to boot. All in all, not bad progress for six months.

But, as it so often goes, this isn’t where the team initially planned to end up. Chien tells us that, going into Imagine K12, LearnSprout had begun to build a modern learning management system-student information system hybrid that was intended to be v2.0 of Blackboard — something not too dissimilar from Instructure’s Canvas. But, it wasn’t long before the founders came to the realization that getting schools to dump their existing systems was basically a fool’s errand.

Rather than shell out money for new systems or software, schools tend to make due with what they have, adding ad hoc fixes as they go. There are over 100 student information systems in operation today, each of them built in Frankenstein ways to save costs. Teachers end up having to manually enter data themselves, making transferring, aggregating, and gaining insight into these data silos a nightmare.

Because schools aren’t eager to budge, the best fix is to give them (and developers) one set of APIs that allows them to keep their systems in place while making their data portable and fluent in a universal language. The startup’s APIs essentially create a secure channel through which developers and schools can transfer the sensitive information from their student information systems.

LearnSprout removes the pain for developers of having to manage CSV files, exports and FTP servers, and removes manual data entry. As extra incentive for schools, LearnSprout handles all data integration with the student information systems itself, whether it’s CSV or direct database connection. The team is also providing schools with two applications that come on top of its APIs and work right out of the box — one of them being a school-wide emergency notification system, for example. The purpose of including these apps, Chien says, is to showcase the power of the platform, give schools a way to get used to the new system, while giving developers an archetype with which to work.

LearnSprout also handles data duplication, serving developers and schools with only the most up-to-date information. What’s more, for schools, it’s all free. LearnSprout offers them one-click install to get them started, charging developers either with a flat fee or offering a revenue share based on the number of integrations. If they bring a new school to LearnSprout, however, integration is free. Right now, Chien says that the startup is already working with about 70 percent of the SIS in operation in the U.S. and is hard at work on covering the remainder.

In terms of its plan going forward, the team is already thinking beyond the U.S., eyeing tons of potential abroad and plans to leverage contacts from Andreessen and Formation 8 to begin taking international steps.

You can find LearnSprout at home here, or check out their pitch at Imagine K12′s Demo Day below:



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