TeacherGaming, a startup from MinecraftEdu team, raises $1.6M to put games into the classroom

TeacherGaming, a new startup from the team behind MinecraftEdu, a company that helped teachers use Minecraft in the classroom that was subsequently acquired by Microsoft, has picked up $1.6 million in seed funding.

Leading the round is Makers Fund (a relatively new U.S. and U.K. VC firm specialising in gaming and deeptech), with participation from Brent Hoberman’s Founders Factory. The Finnish company says it will use the cash injection to support sales and marketing efforts for its new educational gaming subscription service for schools.

A recent graduate of Founders Factory’s edtech accelerator program, TeacherGaming appears to be picking up where MinecraftEdu left off. The Finnish company is building an online service that wants to make it easier for teachers to use “blockbuster” games in schools.

This will include access to the titles on a lower per student basis, and a suite of learning material to support teaching and learning objectives. In addition, the TeacherGaming Desk service offers analytics so that teachers can track their students’ learning and progress.

“As a school teacher almost 10 years ago, I personally saw how engaged the kids were in gaming outside of school and wondered how that enthusiasm and focus could be transferred to the classroom,” TeacherGaming co-founder and CEO Santeri Koivisto tells TechCrunch. “I was and still am an avid gamer, and when Minecraft came around, I saw potential in it for classroom use”.

That potential was proven with the success of MinecraftEdu, and now Koivisto and the rest of the TeacherGaming team want to continue pushing the pedagogical potential of mainstream games — titles that students are quite likely to already be playing at home.

“I figured I could build a business out of something so uniquely engaging, and did just that with Minecraft. That’s how TeacherGaming came to be, and that’s the road I am still on with the rest of our team,” he says.

The beta version of TeacherGaming Desk went to market in July 2017, and the startup has seen educators from a little over 3,500 schools sign up to date. The platform is still in active development, and the company is running co-creation programs with a number of schools around the world — from New York to Hong Kong — to give teachers a role in its development and to make sure TeacherGaming Desk meets the genuine needs of teachers.

Explains Koivisto: “One of the biggest issues in classrooms today is the lack of engagement. Meanwhile at home, students are spending more and more time with video games. And games also happen to be one the most engaging ways to learn: while playing games, we spend tons of time learning how to their world and rules work with no external reward. Often, learning to play the game also involves learning important real world skills or knowledge, whether it’s astrophysics in a space game or learning how to run a country in strategy game. However, these two worlds don’t meet really often”.

To that end, the TeacherGaming CEO says the company’s job is to bridge the gap between learning at school and learning with games. This will involve curating the best games for learning from independent and major games studios, and lowering the threshold for teachers to use them in the classroom, through pedagogical support spanning lesson plans to learning analytics. “That’s TeacherGaming Desk in a nutshell,” he says.