A $650M exit in the making for Nearpod, a homegrown edtech success story

By Nancy Dahlberg

Renaissance Learning is the acquirer, and Nearpod will stay in Dania Beach

Nearpod, the South Florida education technology company founded in 2012, has agreed to be acquired for about $650 million, according to media reports. The buyer is Renaissance Learning, a Wisconsin-based global provider of K-12 software and assessments. The acquisition news follows a year of explosive growth for Nearpod during the pandemic, building on a strong foundation of fast, organic adoption and a string of successes in its earlier years.

News of the acquisition in the works was first revealed in a Moody’s Investor Report published by Yahoo! Finance. A spokeswoman for Nearpod confirmed the news on Friday. However, because the terms of this acquisition are still being finalized, she said Nearpod was not able to confirm or deny any of the details reported until the Department of Justice has completed its review. 

Pep Carrera

Once the acquisition is complete, Nearpod will be run as its own brand, and Pep Carrera, who joined the company as CEO in early 2020, will continue to lead the team of 290 Nearpod employees from Nearpod's Dania Beach headquarters. “There’s very little product overlap, and a lot of synergy in terms of what we can do for students and teachers,” Carrera told EdSurge on Friday. Renaissance has more than 1,000 employees and has made at least four other edtech acquisitions over the past three years.

“In the past year, seismic shifts have changed education as we know it. With the rise of COVID-19, this shift crossed a crucial threshold and created a demand for the edtech industry to provide solutions that don’t supplement or replace the teacher, but instead, pave the way for a new way to teach and learn. The combination of Renaissance and Nearpod empowers teachers to drive the full learner experience with a deep set of real-time data, content, and tools to accelerate learning and growth for all students,” Renaissance CEO Chris Bauleke said in a statement Monday.

Carrera adds: “We’re thrilled to join Renaissance and to support the mission of accelerating learning for all. Connecting Renaissance’s deep insights of over 20 million students to the 1.2 million Nearpod teachers delivers on the full promise of personalizing learning across remote, hybrid, and in-person classrooms.”

The Nearpod story

Nearpod was founded in South Florida by three immigrants from Argentina – Guido Kovalskys, Felipe Sommer and Emiliano Abramzon. Breaking into the K-12 education market is no easy feat, but the founders at first took a bottoms-up approach, believing that if teachers loved the product – and they did – the school districts would follow.

Nearpod’s tools allow teachers to offer video content, create quizzes, offer digital field trips with virtual reality technology, and gamify their lessons. “We turn them into publishers. We’re the tool, the teachers are responsible for the magic,” said Sommer in a 2015 Miami Herald interview. Three local private schools, Immaculata-La Salle, Pine Crest and American Heritage, were among Nearpod’s first customers.

Nearpod co-founders Guido Kovalskys, Felipe Sommer, Emiliano Abramzon

Nearpod’s founders were selected to be part of the Endeavor global network of high-impact entrepreneurs in 2018. "The Nearpod founders are great examples of what we look for in Endeavor Entrepreneurs. They embody our values of thinking big, scaling up, and perhaps most importantly, paying it forward. We are proud to have supported Emi and Felipe in this journey and look forward to continuing to do so in their next endeavors," said Claudia Duran, managing director of Endeavor Miami.

In 2019, Nearpod made an acquisition of its own, buying Flocabulary, an educational content company that had amassed millions of users for its content delivered with hip-hop. Nearpod now offers a library of over 15,000 ready-made lessons from well-known third-party providers as well as Nearpod Originals. Students can use any device to participate in the lessons in real time, and there is also a student-paced learning mode.

Students using Nearpod

The products are used in all 50 states, and in more than 1,800 school districts. In 2020 alone, the company grew by about 50% with more than 1 million teachers using the product, and 2 million to 3 million students on it per day, Carrera said in a Refresh Miami interview in December. “There’s a lot of magic working at a company that’s high growth and also has a mission,” he added.

A founder's view

Sommer told Refresh Miami on Tuesday that  he is "super excited and super proud" of the full cycle of Nearpod.  He recalled the excitement of drawing out the initial idea and the founders' first iterations of the product - "super buggy" - and the journey to where the product is  today. He also recalled when the Nearpod founders made the decision to consolidate its San Francisco office into its South Florida operation. "I think we were pioneers because now that's been happening alot." 

"Of course, this pandemic was a huge push for us, but we were in the right place with the right technology," he said. "The company and the product is super strong. I look forward to see what  [Renaissance] is going to do.  I think that international is going to be the next frontier for Nearpod."

Sommer also said he's been touched by heartfelt calls from  current and former employees who were able to make some unexpected and "interesting money" from stock options they were issued by the startup. "So many beautiful stories."

So what's next for this scrappy entrepreneur?  Sommer plans to  take a well-deserved break  and then will likely start something new in the impact space, but in the meantime he plans to get even more involved in the Miami ecosystem with Endeavor and other organizations he is involved in.

"I think this is a key time for Miami - what Francis Suarez is doing, a couple of companies going public  and I think our story helps to tell the Miami story," he said.  "I'm super thankful for the support of the investors and the ecosystem here. I have only good things to say about everything that is happening." 

Local investor and community support

Over the years, Nearpod had  raised nearly $31 million from investors, according to Crunchbase, including a $21 million Series B round in 2017 led by Insight Venture Partners and Reach Capital. But Nearpod has also enjoyed strong local support: Krillion Ventures, Knight Foundation’s Enterprise Fund and Miami Angels are early investors.

“When Jeff [Miller] and I met the Nearpod team, it was obvious that they had a clear vision, the ability to develop a first-class product, and the perseverance to court and sign school districts. However, what made Nearpod stand out was the team’s laser focus on the end users’ experience and their ability to turn their users into evangelists,” said Melissa Krinzman, managing partner of Krillion Ventures and Miami’s VC-in-Residence.

Added Rebecca Danta, managing director of Miami Angels: “We're thrilled not only for the Nearpod founders that we backed, but also all those that made it possible including the Nearpod team and investors. This is another win for our local ecosystem during an already exciting time. What originally led us to invest is what still makes Nearpod a great product today -- the enthusiastic adoption and organic growth of the product.

 “I'd be knocking on the founders' door to have them join us as investors, but they are already Miami Angels members and have been investing in our local ecosystem for a few years now,” Danta said. “As I often talk about, it's very full circle when we get to see that happen at Miami Angels, and we can't wait to see more of it as local companies continue to scale.” 

This post was updated on Monday  and Tuesday with additional information, including from co-founder Felipe Sommer. Photos provided by Nearpod over the years.

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Nancy Dahlberg
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