Course Hero buys Symbolab in a rare edtech acquisition

Months after its $80 million Series B fundraise, Course Hero has acquired Symbolab, an artificial intelligence-powered calculator that helps students answer and understand complex math questions.

The price of the deal was undisclosed. The nine-person Symbolab team, based in Tel Aviv, will join Course Hero . The platforms will live under independent branding for the near future, according to Andrew Grauer, CEO of Course Hero.

Founded in 2011, Symbolab is an advanced calculator and question solver that is on track to answer 1 billion questions this year, Grauer says. The service has a deep focus on college-level math, and solves complex geometry problems with explanations and proofs.

Course Hero is a question and answer platform at its core. The addition of a calculator and company that holds a data set on the most asked mathematics questions could give Course Hero a bigger edge on its math services, which the company says is one of its most popular subjects among its current students. The service will be offered to Course Hero subscribers as a deal-sweetener.

The model of using a computational engine to give solutions to stuck students is fairly common. In a remote schooling world, flexibility is key for students who might be lost in their classes. While teachers and tutors might only be available for a certain amount of hours, a technology service powered by AI could prove to be a 24/7 solution that students can rely on — and pay for.

Symbolab feels similar to Wolfram Alpha, a popular computational engine. While Grauer says that Wolfram Alpha is a “powerful tool,” he thinks that Symbolab does a better job on depth and explanations. Big companies have added similar services too, such as Google, which acquired homework helper app Socratic in 2019, and Microsoft, which built Microsoft Solver in the same year.

Grauer had to decide between building or buying. The founder ultimately decided to acquire the technology because the true success of artificial intelligence only comes if a platform is able to compound data over time. Symbolab was founded nearly a decade ago, and back-end information is valuable. Grauer says he’s excited to approach the solver problem differently than Google and Microsoft.

“You can’t just [do this] in a short amount of time,” he said. “You’re looking for how do we get the right, accurate answer. But then, how am I going to get, not just accurate, but step by step solutions that are actually helpful.”

Consolidation remains rare in the sector that has historically been underfunded. Edtech acquisitions have been growing steadily but slowly. In 2018, edtech had less than 40 acquisitions. In that same year, fintech had 193 acquisitions, according to Crunchbase.

Still, amid edtech’s larger boom, this acquisition makes a good amount of sense. Course Hero recently raised its biggest tranche of money yet, passed $100 million in annual run revenue and became profitable. Thus, the company likely had money in the bank to afford the deal. In 2012, Course Hero bought Cardinal Scholars from the founders of InstaEdu.

Grauer says that he expects Course Hero to make more acquisitions across a variety of subject areas in the future. In edtech more broadly, he thinks that the next five to 10 years will have more acquisitions.

“If you look back 15 years, there just weren’t that many education technology businesses,” Grauer said. “Now, I think there’s enough of them that potentially have this scale, and both have metrics on the distribution side technology and built out product market fit during the expansion phase.”

Editor’s note: This article stated that Course Hero bought InstaEdu in 2012. This is inaccurate. The company bought Cardinal Scholars, from the founders of InstaEdu. An update has been made to reflect this correction.