Plenty of investors have broken their picks, trying to find gold in education technology. That doesn’t seem to concern the limited partners of Owl Ventures, a three-year-old venture firm that’s focused only on edtech, and which just closed on $185 million — nearly twice the $100 million it raised for its debut fund in 2014.
What’s the appeal? As the firm tells it, there’s never been a better time to harness a wave of innovation happening, from early childhood education to professional learning.
The reason is access, says Tory Patterson, a former investor with the dot.com-era venture firm Catamount Ventures, who formed Owl with Catamount cofounder Jed Smith.
What Patterson means: broadband adoption in schools has risen from less than 5 percent in 2010 to 30 percent in 2013 to now 94 percent. That rise has led to a lot of schools to either purchase of seek out donated connected devices, which is in turn creating a lot of opportunities for ed-tech companies to sell subscription-based software to them.
Certainly, it’s an enormous market to be chasing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the global education market is estimated to be a nearly $7 trillion one.
Owl, which has yet to see any exits, has a number of portfolio companies that have grown more valuable since it invested, too. Among them is Newsela, a five-year-old, New York-based instructional content platform whose primary focus is helping kids boost their literacy skills through online news articles. It has raised $22 million altogether, including a $15 million Series B led by Kleiner Perkins after Owl had invested.
Another portfolio company, Quizlet — which helps students practice and master whatever they are learning through study sets, flash cards and more — was bootstrapped and already profitable when it raised its first, $12 million, round of funding, led by Union Square Ventures, in 2015.
Owl also touts another bet, on four-year-old, Houston-based Accelerate Learning, which had raised a $10 million Series A round led by Owl last year and has apparently seen substantial traction since.
Owl has already made three investments out of its newest fund, including Lingo Live, an online language startups; Piper, which gives students the chance to build and code their own computers; and Tinkergarten, which lets instructors run early learning play-based outdoor classes.
Patterson declined to discuss the newest investors in Owl’s second fund, but the Gates Foundation was among those that backed its debut effort.
Since founding Owl, Patterson and Smith have brought aboard two other partners: Tom Costin, previously an investments specialist with Cambridge Associates, who went to business school at Stanford with Patterson, and Amit Patel, who has worked for a number of education startups and previously founded an after-school tutoring company.