Engrade Grabs $3M From Wireless Generation Co-founder To Help Teachers Manage Their Classrooms

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As a high school student in 2003, Bri Holt found himself increasingly frustrated by the fact that there was no easy way for he and his classmates to view their grades online. So, being familiar with the wizardry of web development, Holt decided to build his own, laying the foundations for what would become Engrade. While Holt went on to other projects, over the next seven-odd years, his simple, free online gradebook slowly found increasing, organic adoption among teachers. In 2010, Holt returned to Engrade, brought in some help, and over the next 18 months, focused on turning the education tool into a more robust, enterprise education platform.

To help it scale, the startup is now ready to take on venture funding, announcing yesterday that it has closed a $3 million round of seed funding, led by Rethink Education, along with participation from the non-profit, education-focused venture fund, NewSchools, which counts John Doerr as a board member, and individual investors including co-founder of Wireless Generation (one of edtech’s largest exits — to News Corp. for about $360M) Greg Gunn, as well as angel investors Zac Zeitlin, and Richard Chino.

Since 2003, Engrade has grown its user base to 4.5 million teachers, admins, parents, and students in all 50 states, and 150 countries, with institutional customers that include the New York City Department of Education and KIPP Charter Schools. Based on Engrade’s adoption, it’s clear that there’s a high demand for simple web-based gradebooks — as well as evidence of the little-known fact that teachers can be active early adopters.

Of course, for a free web app, teacher adoption doesn’t necessarily translate into a sustainable business. If your company is driven by a mission that purports to make those very teachers’ lives easier, you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you. Plus, teachers often don’t have discretionary spending from schools, so they end up paying for new technology out of their own pockets. In other words, this isn’t the best business model.

Instead, Holt tells us, Engrade has turned to schools and districts to generate revenue, which generally speaking have much more sizable budgets for purchasing ed software. Engrade uses, like so many other software startups, a freemium model. Users start off with the free product, but for schools with 100+ students looking to use the platform, the startup offers EngradePlus, starting at $600, and scaling up from there based on the number of students.

To attract institutions and districts to its enterprise-grade features, the startup has added an array of features, which includes attendance, discipline, and parent-teacher conference tracking, score messaging, standardized test score analysis, report card printing, parent email and SMS alerts, an API for integrating with existing software, and admin-level reporting, among others.

With its new funding, the founder says, the team is now looking to tackle one of the biggest problems currently plaguing schools: They are producing a huge amount of data, but that data is spread across a fragmented group of learning management, grading, and tracking services. Teachers may use one service for grade tracking, and another for test scores. To combat this, Engrade is moving to integrate each segment of data into one centralized platform and make it accessible for teachers, students, parents, and third-parties via its API.

Today, Engrade is tracking over 1 billion student data points, from grades to attendance and test scores. The goal is to be enable all those who make educational decisions, in each part of the chain, to have better access to the information through which they can identify problems earlier, which students are absent, at risk, etc.

As it gears up for further expansion and sales efforts, the startup is also announcing two new additions to its leadership. Dr. Steven Paine, the former superintendent of schools in West Virginia, is joining Engrade as Chief Academic Officer, and Julie Huston joins as SVP of Sales. Huston is formerly the EVP of Global Sales for Archipelago Learning.

While Engrade has been around longer than most and has the benefit of a sizable user base, there’s plenty of competition afoot. There’s JupiterGrades, ThinkWave, and venture-backed free gradebook and lesson planner, LearnBoost. Read Leena’s initial coverage here. [Disclosure: My significant other works for LearnBoost.] There are also a slew of Student Information Systems and Learning Management Systems that offer gradebooks as part of their services, like Spiral Universe, for example.

But with a workable, easy-to-use free option to bring teachers in, and a robust enterprise-grade platform to lock in paying schools and districts, Engrade thinks it’s onto a winning model.

For more, check out Engrade at home here, and let us know what you think.