Smart Sparrow today announced $4 million in new funding to support the expansion of their popular instructional design and courseware platform. This funding round adds Moelis Australia Asset Management (“MAAM”), part of Moelis Australia and the NYSE-listed Moelis & Company (together “Moelis”), as a significant investor in the deal structured by leading VC firm, and returning investor, OneVentures. Uniseed also participated as a returning investor.
The number of U.S. students taking college courses online has grown to nearly six million in 2016. More than a quarter of all students now take at least one course online, and technology is being embedded into face-to-face courses at a similar rate. The growth of online learning is driving unprecedented demand for so-called “smart” course content, which blends adaptive technologies and sophisticated analytics to engage learners and track student progress. In response, colleges and universities are hiring more instructional designers to keep pace with the demand; the field is expected to grow by as much as 20% in the next decade.
“Education technology is, for the first time, borrowing concepts familiar from consumer apps to simplify the process for faculty to create high-quality, engaging courses that draw upon the best of pedagogy and practice,” said Dror Ben-Naim, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Smart Sparrow. “Just like PowerPoint and Photoshop made it possible for anyone to create an engaging presentation or graphic, our platform enables the development of courses that taps the best of technology to engage students — without sacrificing pedagogy.”
Conceived by Ben-Naim while he was an Intelligent Tutoring Systems researcher at the University of New South Wales, the Smart Sparrow platform has drawn interest from a cross section of investors and philanthropists, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which awarded the company a $4.5 million grant. Ben-Naim was named a Top Innovator of 2016 by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Instructors use the Smart Sparrow platform to create their own course content, incorporating simulations and adaptive tutorials to ensure maximum student engagement. The digital format enables both faculty and instructional designers to access real-time insight into student progress and identify areas for improvements to the course.
“Smart Sparrow technology presents an exciting opportunity to re-imagine the way we learn,” said Ben Wong, a Managing Director of Moelis Australia. “We see broad-based applications for the technology, and we’re excited to support their work to inspire the next generation of students.”
To date, Smart Sparrow has helped over 8,000 educators worldwide create more than 20,000 simulations, digital lessons, and blended courses. Just two years into its expansion in the U.S., Smart Sparrow has been embraced by the nation’s most innovative universities and organizations, such as Arizona State University, Columbia University, Stanford University, and Achieving the Dream. Smart Sparrow has also received grants from both NASA and the Department of Defense, which are using the platform to develop cutting-edge courses that provide students with hands-on learning experiences in fields like medicine, science, and social and emotional learning.
About Moelis Australia Asset Management (MAAM)
Founded in 2012, MAAM is a market leader in providing access to alternative investment opportunities, including real estate, infrastructure, technology and public and private equity to investors via its fund platform and direct mandates. Moelis is also the pioneer of the Significant Investment Visa (“SIV”) program in Australia, and offers a comprehensive range of SIV investment migration compliant funds to high net worth investors, particularly from China and Southeast Asia. MAAM currently has approximately $1.5 billion of assets under management and commitments.
OneVentures is an Australian VC firm with $320M under management launching its first fund in 2010. The firm use their core strength in business building to accelerate portfolio company performance. Exit value delivered by the team to investors of $1.5B includes 4 nasdaq companies. A thematic global growth investment focus drives investment selection and fund creation with portfolio companies addressing multi- $Billion problems such as breakthroughs in healthcare (needle free vaccine delivery) through to the transformation of online education (next generation courseware and personalised learning).
Uniseed (www.uniseed.com) is a venture fund operating at the Universities of Melbourne, Queensland, New South Wales and Sydney, as well as the CSIRO. Uniseed’s mandate is to facilitate the commercialisation of research partner generated intellectual property by targeted investment in highly promising technologies. Uniseed’s investments cover a range of technology sectors. To date, the fund has exited a number of investments; a drug to treat nerve pain (Spinifex Pharmaceuticals acquisition by Novartis); a drug in development to treat fibrosis (Fibrotech Therapeutics sale to Shire plc); an IT security technology (Vintela sale to Quest Software Inc.); a semi‐conductor technology (Fultec sale to Bourns Semiconductor Inc); and a headlice treatment (Hatchtech) sold to Dr Reddy’s Laboratories.