Toronto-based Top Hat Monocle, a student engagement platform that replaces traditional classroom clickers with a web-based alternative, recently announced that it received a $1.1 million follow-on capital investment from Felicis Ventures, as part of a strategic alignment with the boutique venture fund. The venture fund came across the company during its Series A round of $8 million and wanted to add the startup to its growing portfolio of companies in the ed tech space, which includes the likes of Piazza and Inkling.
“They were pretty disappointed they weren’t able to get into the round, but kept in touch and talked us through their vision about where they see higher education, where they see technology, particularly mobile technology, and it really aligned with how we think we can impact the space,” said COO Andrew D’Souza in an interview with BetaKit. “Particularly on the concept side, we share a lot of the same vision and similar partners to them as we come into looking into building out the next phase of our product.”
Top Hat Monocle had a particularly strong second half of 2012, exceeding its sales targets, opening an office in Sydney, Australia, adding 50 new employees, and partnering with desire2learn, a company that provides cloud-based learning solutions. With most of the new staff added to the marketing and sales team, D’Souza said the company was able to double the number of schools that currently use its software, going from 150 to 300 schools around the world over the past year.
While it started out as a classroom polling system, today the company provides a growing suite of engagement tools that professors can leverage to conduct in-class polls, quizzes, run interactive demos, and upload and share files while managing homework and grading procedures. On the student’s end, they use whatever device they have on them, everything from mobile phones, tablets, or a laptop, to interact with the platform.
The ed tech sector continues to see strong interest from both investors and faculty as students increasingly show up to class with one or multiple devices. BetaKit covered Echo360′s acquisition of Lecture Tools, another cloud-based student and professor interaction platform. Echo360’s footprint of 500 institutions in more than 30 countries will be one of the major competitors Top Hat Monocle can expect to encounter, since the lecture-capture company added $31 million in funding last year. Another company, Coursemodo, also launched in the summer of last year and provides a similar set of in-class tools that are being used in several North American colleges to date.
However, D’Souza said the company is more focused on educating school administrators and professors about their web-based solution, since they’re selling to those who previously adopted more hardware-oriented solutions like iclicker and are now either looking to switch to software-based solutions or keep up with the trend in higher education. “I do think the purchase is going to shift to a software product. More and more schools are trying to standardize on one classroom response provider. They don’t want to have multiple vendors on campus,” D’Souza added.
Another key shift occurring in the market according to D’Souza is the fact that the company is seeing an uptick in being approached by higher education institutions to do a licence agreement and negotiate an institutional purchase so as to not pass the subscription cost onto the students (currently students pay for access to the platform). Top Hat Monocle also plans to work closely with the professors using its tools in order to build out a content marketplace, where they would be able to earn royalties by selling some of their quizzes, assignments, and other material created for the platform. With the added funding and additional strategic support from Felicis, Top Hat Monocle looks ready to continue on its trek to make the in-class experience worthwhile for students in today’s digital age.