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Ed-tech startup scales up team, picks Indy as home base

June 23, 2017

At about this time last year, Mimir Corp. was a three-person startup based at the Anvil co-working space in West Lafayette. Today, the education-tech firm has 14 employees and three interns based in a downtown Indianapolis office tower.

It's been a rapid rise for the company, aided in part by both Midwest and Silicon Valley institutions. At one point Silicon Valley investors asked Mimir to transplant to California, but the company opted to grow in the Midwest.

"We're very proud of the investors that we have here the Midwest," said Prahasith Veluvolu, the 21-year-old co-founder and CEO. He later added: "We go out to the valley to visit companies or meet funds every now and then, but Indiana is just home for us."

Mimir, which sells software universities use to automate grading for computer science courses, moved into Market Tower on June 8. It assumed 3,200 square feet of space on the 8th floor there—up from a roughly 600-square-foot office it previously occupied at the Anvil.

The company plans to expand its existing space to 4,500 square feet in the coming weeks and employ 20 people by the end of the summer.

Mimir was founded in 2014 by Veluvolu, Jacobi Petrocciani and Colton Voege, all Purdue University students. They were fed up with the quality of the feedback they were getting on computer science assignment submissions, so they set out to make software that automated the grading process for professors.

"Every time we turn in one of our programming assignments, it usually took over a month to get it back," Veluvolu said. "And when we did get it back, it was usually just a number on a online portal; we barely got any feedback."

The software, called the Mimir Classroom, grades submissions within seconds, checking for plagiarism and showing professors analytics that, for instance, indicate which students still need help.

Mimir charges universities per student, though it does not disclose student metrics or pricing. However, Veluvolu said its software graded 15 million submissions across 80 universities this past spring semester, up from 6 million submissions in the fall semester.

One early catalyst for Mimir's growth: acceptance into esteemed Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator in summer 2015. YC, as it’s called, pumps $120,000 into its portfolio companies and surrounds them other resources over the course of several weeks. 

Veluvolu, who dropped out of school in 2015 to focus on Mimir, said the experience at YC helped grow its client base from seven universities to 30.

"We were three engineers. We didn't really know sales," Veluvolu said.

After Y Combinator ended in August 2015, the company set out to raise $750,000 in seed funding from California investors. It's lead investor required that the company relocate to California—and when Mimir declined, that investor and some others pulled out.

Over the next several months, Mimir went on to raise the money from several Midwest investors, including Chicago-based M25 Group and Chicago Ventures and Indianapolis-based Meridian Street Capital and Zuna Angel Group.

That funding round, which also included a $20,000 investment from the Elevate Purdue Foundry Fund, closed in 2016, and the company has a follow-on seed-round in the works.

But Mimir is still getting some help from California. Earlier this month Veluvolu was named a Thiel Fellow by San Francisco-based Thiel Foundation. The two-year fellowship—which encourages young entrepreneurs to focus full-time on their businesses in lieu of college—provides fellows with $100,000 and mentorship.

Veluvolu said the designation helps Mimir because he's not taking a salary these next two years, "and we'll be able to use that money to grow faster."

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