Education-software maker ThinkCerca has lined up a group of A-list investors. The company, founded by former Chicago Public Schools teacher and administrator Eileen Murphy Buckley, raised $10 million, led by Intuit software founder Scott Cook and his wife, Signe Osby. Other investors who joined in: LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner; Mike Gamson, a Chicago-based senior executive; TAL Education Group, a large education and test-prep company in China; and Plum Alley Investments, which backs women-led companies.
In addition, Tom Chi, who helped develop Google Glass, joined ThinkCerca as a board member.
ThinkCerca, started five years ago, is hitting its stride, signing up schools in 40 states, Murphy Buckley says. Big customers include Chicago, New York and Fayette County, Ga., near Atlanta.
Its software, which helps teach critical thinking and writing skills that lie at the heart of many standardized tests, is starting to show results. Murphy Buckley says the number of students meeting or exceeding state standards at Hendricks Community Academy on the South Side doubled to about 60 percent since the school has used its software. Fayette County schools achieved similar results.
ThinkCerca was part of Impact Engine, an incubator for startups with a social mission, five years ago. It now has about 45 employees, up from fewer than 30 a year ago.
With a track record behind it, ThinkCerca now is focusing on selling its software to school districts rather than one school at a time. “We’ve brought in seven of those so far this year,” Murphy Buckley says. The company is seeing wider adoption within school districts. She says that ThinkCerca is benefiting from an uptick in spending by schools on technology and personalized instruction.
“ThinkCerca has among the strongest impact of ed-tech products that we have seen in the K-12 market,” Intuit’s Cook, who also led an $11 million financing of New York-based literacy software company LightSail, said in a statement.
Murphy Buckley raised $4.7 million previously from investors including Deborah Quazzo, founder and managing partner of GSV Acceleration; Sam Yagan, CEO of ShopRunner; Chuck Templeton, founder of OpenTable; and Follett Knowledge Fund, the investment arm of Follett, the education-bookstore and technology and services company based in Westchester.