Zuckerberg Invests in New Startup
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 00:10
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg invested $4 million last week in Panorama Education, a Cambridge firm that seeks to help K-12 schools improve through data analysis and feedback surveys of teachers, parents, and students. The investment is backed by Zuckerberg’s company, Startup:Education, and was complemented by investments from many others, including Jeff Clavier’s SoftTech VC, Google Ventures, and Ashton Kutcher’s A-Grade Investments.
Panorama Education is a firm that helps school districts, charter networks, and state governments conduct surveys of students, parents, teachers, and staff. Its classroom surveys collect feedback that teachers use to grow, and school surveys to help educators improve education as a whole. The current educational system presents major issues nationwide, including inadequate resources and teaching, disheartening drop out rates and bullying. According to Panorama Education co-founder Aaron Feuer, “there’s no way to understand what’s going on, because there’s not enough data analysis, not enough data being collected, and nobody there to analyze it. This would never be acceptable at a company.”
Panorama Education’s technology now serves more than 4,000 schools, covering more than 1 million students. With this investment round, the Cambridge firm plans to continue building out its business in the U.S. market. Its current clients include the Connecticut and Colorado state departments of education and most recently the Los Angeles Unified School District and its 550,000 students.
So far, it has yet to tackle private institutions or anything beyond the K-12 range.
Panorama Education’s beginnings resemble Zuckerberg’s own Harvard start-up, Facebook. The idea began when founder, Aaron Feuer, was still a high school student. In 2008, during his senior year at North Hollywood High School, Feuer served as president of the California Association of Student Councils.
He traveled throughout the state asking students and teachers about how to improve schools, and nearly everyone said that feedback was paramount.
He then helped draft a California state bill that authorized schools to “establish a committee of pupils and teachers to develop a survey by which pupils may provide feedback to teachers.”
Feuer decided, however, to take his idea further when he started college at Yale University. He and three of his classmates were determined to develop a product that could put his idea directly into practice. They founded Panorama Education in April 2012. Within a year, Feuer said, 1,100 schools had signed up.
The company charges an annual fee based on district size and requested features. Currently, Feuer said the smallest contract is $200. The New Haven Independent reported its district is paying somewhere between $52,000 and $60,000.
“Our schools weren’t using feedback from teachers, parents, and students effectively,” Feuer said in a statement. “There was a missed opportunity to understand everyone’s experiences and learn what was and wasn’t working. That data is extremely important when addressing issues such as parent involvement, bullying prevention, school safety, and student engagement. So when I was in high school in Los Angeles, we led a statewide campaign to use this feedback in education. We quickly realized that our school leaders wanted the feedback too, but they did not have an easy, affordable way to collect data, analyze the information, and take action. We decided to build that technology for public education. We are using technology to address some of the most difficult problems in education. We are tremendously excited to have Mark Zuckerberg involved because of his passion for technology and education.”
Panorama Education is the first edtech investment from Startup:Education, a non-profit started by Mark Zuckerberg. Startup:Education began with a $100 million grant Zuckerberg made to Newark public schools in 2010.
A Facebook representative said the investment money for Panorama is distinct from the Newark funds.
In a statement, Zuckerberg spoke for his wife and himself, and said, “Priscilla and I are excited to support Panorama Education and its mission. Their company is an exciting example of the way technology can help teachers, parents, and students make their voices heard.