Education Start-up SynapticMash Acquired for $10 Million
BY Courtney Rubin
The three-year-old company's founder came to educational software thanks partly to volunteer work -- and a life-changing accident.
Ramona Pierson, founder and chief scientific officer for SynapticMash
Education software company SynapticMash announced on Wednesday it has been acquired by Promethean World.
Promethean, a U.K.-based provider of interactive learning technology, will pay $10 million in cash, of which $1 million will be deferred for a year and a half. Promethean – which has 860 employees worldwide and is listed on the London Stock Exchange -- may hand over up to another $3 million in 18 months, depending on the company's keeping key employees and hitting sales targets. The acquisition is expected to close by the end of July.
Seattle-based SynapticMash, which will celebrate its third birthday in August, sells its software to U.S. school districts by subscription. Promethean says it plans to continue selling the software on its own. In 2009, SynapticMash had revenues of $700,000 and recorded a loss of $2.5 million. The company has 25 employees.
At less than a year old, SynapticMash already was selling its software -- which helps evaluate student performance and then modify lesson plans based on the results – to Washington state schools and the University of Chicago. In 2008, it raised a first round of $3 million from Raycliff Capital and Vantage Partners.
The company's founder and chief scientific officer, Ramona Pierson, began her career in the military, but her life changed drastically while out jogging in the spring of 1984. She was hit by a drunk driver, which killed her dog and sent her into an 18-month coma. The accident broke 104 of her bones, caused multiple forms of brain trauma and rendered her blind. She had to re-learn to speak, and to navigate the world with a seeing eye dog. (Thanks to surgery, Pierson eventually regained sight in one eye more than a decade after her accident.)
Pierson worked as a neuropsychologist and – motivated by her own vision deficiencies – took to developing software to help those with impaired sight. Later she worked in Silicon Valley – and spent her free time volunteering for the San Francisco school district.
"I started doing some pro bono work assessing kids who had traumatic brain injuries," she told the Seattle Times in 2009. "I became very interested in education."
Through her volunteer work, she discovered many teachers didn't know what to do with the data she presented to them, and began brainstorming software solutions. Later, at Seattle Public Schools, Pierson created The Source – an online student information portal of learning plans, attendance, reporting tools for grade books, and all test data – to respond to parents' need for information about their kids' progress. She also developed Learn, a kind of Facebook/YouTube mashup for students, parents and teachers, that's tucked into The Source.
"While Microsoft and Google were fighting over buying YouTube, we went ahead and built our own version of it," Pierson told industry newsletter The Journal of The Source in 2007.
Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.