By Nancy Dahlberg
Miami-based SoftBank Opportunity Fund is a funder of the socially impactful startup.
AllHere, founded by Miami native Joanna Smith, is on a mission to provide K-12 school districts with personalized technology solutions to improve student outcomes. Today the education-technology startup announced it has closed an $8 million Series A round, led by Spero Ventures, with participation of SoftBank Opportunity Fund and others, to expand the capabilities of AllHere’s conversational AI-powered chatbot.
Founded in 2018 in Boston, AllHere initially focused on measurably improving student attendance, the leading indicator of student success in K-12 education, and a number of schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties have been using AllHere for that purpose. With the new funding, Smith said AllHere’s capabilities will expand.
“The funding is going to be invested to help us grow the capabilities of our chatbot to support families and students across the entire student lifecycle -- from enrollment through graduation,” said Smith, CEO of AllHere, in an interview with Refresh Miami this morning. “The use case for AllHere has expanded beyond attendance to IT support, social and emotional learning, school closures, academics, student health and much more, with the focus on giving students and families that 24/7 support.”
Her Miami story
Smith was born and raised in Miami, and attended public schools in South Florida (including Norland and Everglades for high school) until she went away to college. Her family still lives in the area – her dad played football for Miami Edison -- so it is still a second home for her. With AllHere working with a number of schools in South Florida, Smith expects to be spending three to six months here for business, too. “I consider myself a Miamian through and through,” said Smith (pictured above). "Miami has become a hub for innovation, for opportunity, and it is so exciting."
After graduating from Harvard, she worked as a public school teacher -- 8th grade math -- and a family engagement leader at a charter school network in Boston. “I got to see firsthand how attendance challenges have had an impact on children's outcomes.” That’s where the idea for AllHere started.
“The intervention strategies that schools use can tend to not take into account family situations beyond simple awareness of attendance being an issue and that approach can leave students and families less willing to engage … Our goal was to be able to move beyond that with a way that is evidence based, and that can scale,” Smith said. Early on, AllHere worked with schools in underserved areas of Miami, and it continues to be used by a number of individual schools in Miami-Dade and Broward, she said.
During the pandemic, attendance had become an even more urgent problem in the virtual learning environment. “We saw a window of opportunity to leverage the latest research on family engagement as well as the technology of natural language processing and artificial intelligence to transform what supporting families and students in the next normal can look like in practice,” Smith said.
During the past year, AllHere grew the number of schools using its chatbot solution by over 700% to 8,000 schools across 34 states. In 2020, AllHere also acquired EdNudge, a technology developed by Dr. Peter Bergman at Columbia University’s Teachers College to improve K-12 attendance through automated text messages. AllHere’s approach has been proven through randomized control trial research to reduce chronic absenteeism by 17%, reduce course failures by 38%, and increase student retention, the company said.
Going forward, Smith said, “we want AllHere -- especially in terms of having a role in helping to build public education back better -- to serve as a personalized advisor for every single student in every single family, by responding to their questions in real time and proactively providing that high quality educational guidance and support throughout their journey in school.”
In addition to Spero and the SoftBank Opportunity Fund, AllHere’s Series A round included existing investors Rethink Education, Gratitude Railroad, Potencia Ventures, and Boston Impact Initiative, and new investors Operator Collective, and Yard Ventures. AllHere has raised $12.1 million in investment capital to date.
At a SoftBank event in Miami last month, Smith said the SoftBank Opportunity Fund, a $100 million fund dedicated to investing in Black, LatinX and native American entrepreneurs, came in to close the Series A as a new investor.
She also shared some advice about fund-raising:
“Building and scaling a company is like building a plane as you are flying it, and with fundraising it’s like you are taking one hand off the piloting. Fundraising is a fulltime job… I heard a lot of ‘no’s’ and I always tell founders ‘no’ is your friend, always ask for feedback. If you are a founder of color, it is well known it can take you a little longer to close your round compared to other folks, but you have to make sure the trend line of your business is still improving as you raise,” Smith said.
“It is a wild ride but what always grounded me was being committed to growing the company and having those KPIs improving as we raised. Fundraising is not the milestone, it is the fuel to reach that milestone.”
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