Firefly takes $5.6M Series A for its online learning tool for schools

Firefly Learning, a London-based edtech company that launched its SaaS teaching and learning support platform for schools back in 2009, has taken its first VC investment as it looks to accelerate growth of its user base — announcing a £4.5 million Series A today.

Lead investor in the round is BGF Ventures, which has put in £3 million. Beringea is also investing, with the caveat that their investment remains “subject to closing conditions” at this point — owing to it being a U.K. venture capital trust, and needing to gain confirmation from HMRC the investment qualifies (a formality at this point, says Firefly).

Its cloud-based support platform lets teachers set homework assignments, track pupils’ progress, provide feedback and share learning resources. For students it’s positioning it as a hub for accessing and organizing learning resources and homework assignments. And for parents the idea is the ability to be looped in to kids’ school work progress automatically — by letting them view homework assignments, timetables and so on, without adding to teachers’ workloads.

Its overall pitch for the platform is it makes learning more transparent, helps parents be more engaged and involved, helps teachers be more efficient and raises kids’ attainment levels by facilitating “joined-up conversation.”

The platform has mobile and desktop apps; integrates with Google Apps and Office 365; and Firefly also has its own API for education software providers to plug in their content.

While there’s no shortage of players hoping to take a slice of the edtech market — schools in the U.K. spend some £900 million a year on education technology — Firefly reckons it can stand out in a crowded and competitive space by focusing on usability/ease of use; and by having a feature set that caters to schools’ specific needs rather than trying to repurpose a feature-laden business or university learning platform for the schools market (as they argue some rivals do).

But it’s worth noting that tech giants such as Amazon are also eyeing the space, so competition is only likely to step up.

At this point Firefly has 480 schools as paying subscribers for its platform, with a reach of around 400,000 pupils. Adoption has so far skewed toward public schools, with 59 percent of its users being independent schools versus 26 percent state schools, although it says it is seeing its best growth in the U.K. state sector. It also has 15 percent international schools. Pricing is based on student numbers — ranging from £7 to £12 per student per year.

While the founders say the platform has taken revenue and been profitable since launch, the new funding is aimed at accelerating growth in the U.K. and abroad — with a plan to expand its office and operations in Australia. They’re intending to double the size of the company during this funding phase — currently the team is 50-strong. As well as expanding their sales and marketing activity to fire up on the growth front, the funding will also be spent on R&D to continue developing the platform.

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Simon Calver, founding partner at BGF Ventures, said: “Firefly is already an international business operating in over thirty countries and we think this product has the potential to be the foremost platform in the global Edtech space.”

“There are lots of apps and platforms for schools out there but Firefly has created a complete platform that integrates reminders, messaging, homework setting activities and learning resources. It is easy for teachers, pupils and parents to use the platform and can transform the way schools are run, so that everyone is using their time fruitfully to improve education results for pupils,” he added.