You may have seen the startup Brightwheel scoring an investment from Mark Cuban and Chris Sacca on Sharktank last year. Or you may know Brightwheel if you have kids in preschool, daycare, or other early education programs these days.
Brightwheel’s mobile app helps pre-K teachers and care providers to manage their business, while sending parents updates about their kids throughout the school day. The app handles payments, and records sign-in and sign-out data when parents drop off or pick up kids at school. Caregivers can also use it to share photos and information with parents through a secured platform rather than giving them notes on paper, or sending them ad hoc through text messages, or social networks like Facebook.
CEO and founder of Brightwheel, Dave Vasen, said, “It’s crazy to drop your kid off and have basically no connection to them for the rest of the day. And on the other side of things, it’s crazy for teachers to have so much paperwork to manage on a regular work day that they’d have to spend time away from kids filling out forms.”
Brightwheel has gained traction among child care providers ranging from small, in-home day cares with just a handful of kids, to multi-state chains that have 50 schools and hundreds of kids. Its product is available on a “freemium” or paid premium basis, meaning preschools can use a version of it with a limited feature set for as long as they wish without having to pay anything.
Maintaining a freemium approach makes Brightwheel accessible to lower income communities, Vasen said. That matters to his for-profit, for-good startup. “Something like 85% of brain development happens in the first 3 years of life. Quality, pre-K education is a major factor in overall childhood development, of course, but it even makes an impact on crime reduction and economic growth. Access to good pre-K care is low in the US, we’re ranked 26th globally. And we want think tech can help to change that,” Vasen explained.
Today, Brightwheel revealed that it has raised $10 million in a Series A round of venture funding. GGV Capital led the round, joined by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, ICONIQ, and Brightwheel’s earlier backers: Eniac Ventures, Golden Venture Partners, Lowercase Capital, Mark Cuban Companies, and RRE Ventures along with several angel investors.
While education tech has drawn serious venture funding in recent years, much of the investment has gone towards companies that provide corporate or employee training, or education tools and content to the college or K-12 market. What little has gone towards early childhood development has been primarily invested in educational toys and games.
GGV Managing Partner Jeff Richards says, “Brightwheel’s basic thesis is universal. Everyone cares about their kids! But we don’t see what they’re doing as ‘edtech.’ It’s a vertical SaaS play. They’re going after an industry relatively untouched by software. And they’re going to small and medium sized businesses with a tool that can help them deliver better service to their customers.”
Nursery schools, daycares and businesses that take care of infants and toddlers are highly regulated. That means they can be more complicated to please with a tech product, and that companies venturing into the pre-K market must invest in expertise around compliance to all local, state and federal laws even from their earliest days.
Some typical administrative requirements they face include: keeping a log of when kids check in and leave with a physical signature from the parent or guardian dropping off the child, annotating how kids are developing, and sending notes home to parents around payments, vacation days, field trips, or supplies that their kids will need.
Brightwheel intends to use its funding to double in size from about 12 employees to probably 25 over the next year, Vasen says, and to build out its product. It looks to create new features to help daycare providers and early childhood educators plan out lessons and activities for their kids. It may also provide some curriculum or activity ideas to parents so that they can continue to reinforce what kids learn at school over the weekends and at home.