Ed-tech Codelicious lands $3.8M in seed-stage funding

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Christine McDonnell

Ed-tech startup Codelicious has closed a $3.8 million seed-stage funding round that will allow the Indianapolis-based firm—which offers customizable computer science curriculums to schools—to expand the features of its web-based platform and push into more districts.

The round was led by Indianapolis-based Allos Ventures and EduLab Capital Partners, a venture capital firm with offices in Boston and Tokyo that specializes in learning innovation.

“We have tracked Codelicious since their early days of development,” said Don Aquilano, managing director at Allos Ventures, in a statement. “Our decision to invest in the company reflects our appreciation of how CEO Christine McDonnell has led her team to an enormous growth opportunity that will transform how computer science is taught.”

Local firm Sixty8 Capital, which recently closed a $20 million venture fund, is also an investor, along with Indianapolis-based Elevate Ventures and Hong Kong-based GRE Capital.

Codelicious currently serves more than 100 schools and districts in 23 states, with what it calls curriculum-as-a-service. And McDonnell, who founded the company, said there’s no reason that the company should be limited to computer science curriculum. The platform can be used to distribute and customize lessons and instruction plans many subjects.

IBJ talked with McDonnell the company—which grew during the pandemic as schools turned to virtual learning—and what the new investments mean for its future. And we asked her about being a finalist in the GSV Cup, a global pitch competition for pre-seed and seed ed-tech companies that will includes a prize pool of $550,000 in non-dilutive capital, $450,000 in Google Cloud credits, and HubSpot prizes.

Tell us what your goals were for this funding round. When did you start searching for investments?

I don’t think you ever stop raising money as a CEO, and so I think it’s a journey that doesn’t end. I feel it is similar to telling a story—and the story evolves over time and the momentum gathers. And you then finally hit that intersection of company, market, product and it fits with the investment thesis of the investors and then things start to click.

There is a point at which momentum turns your way because of the intersecting circles and that’s where we found ourselves.

Kelli iJones

Has Codelicious raised money from investors in the past?

We have done other equity rounds. We have raised capital along the way. This is our seed round and we are very excited to have EduLab Capital Partners and Allos Ventures leading the round and so excited Elevate Ventures is a follow-on investor.

Sixty8 Capital is investing in this round and we’re so excited to have Kelli Jones [co-founder of the fund] in with us as well. She brings such a wealth of resources and insights. And then GRE Capital is also a follow-on investor.

Tell me about EduLab Capital Partners. Why they were important to you to be involved?

We were so excited when EduLab Capital Partners came on board. It’s a validation of excellence in the ed-tech space. They are a very experienced funder, both in depth and breadth. And we are excited for that level of confidence that it brings to the direction and growth that our company has taken—as well as the insights and resources in scaling an Ed Tech company that they will bring.

Will either Allos Ventures or EduLab have seats on your board?

Focus Allos Ventures Aquilano
Don Aquilano

Don Aquilano sits on our board and EduLab will also be a board adviser.

Was Don already a board member or did he become a board member as part of this fund raise?

He has been an advisor for a very long time, so he has been on our board as an advisor for a while. We’re so very excited to have Allos as part of this investment.

You mentioned specifically Sixty8 Capital, which of course is a pretty new fund that’s investing in women and investing in minority businesses. You are one of its early investments.

I think Sixty8 Capital has an amazing investment thesis and it’s so needed in this world of startup. And so I’m excited that Kelli and her team took an interest in us and decided to make a sound investment.

How are you going to use this round of investment?

We really have some bold visions. We’re going to look three different ways that we’re going to drive our growth with this funding.

So when you look at scalability, you look at go to market access and we’re going to be accelerating that both in growing our team and accelerating our national presence. We’re also going to invest in expansion of our platform. There are so many things that come along with scaling the technology piece of the platform, and we’re very excited to take it to the next level—to both support the large acceleration of customers that we have ,in addition to additional features that we have for our platform.

And then the third piece will just be in scaling the elements of the company that we need in place to reinforce all of the growth that we’re having.

You are offering schools a computer science curriculum and you mentioned a platform. Tell me how it works?

At our core, we provide an algorithm-generated, customizable curriculum for K-12. It’s our platform that enables us to do that.

We have chosen to focus that technology on computer science curriculum as our first entree into the digital curriculum market. because of the needs of the computer science curriculum. But at its core, this platform allows us to customize curriculum to the instructional cadence that would be unique to any school or district.

You’ve got about 100 schools and districts. Has that number been increasing?

It has been increasing. As COVID came, the need for a curriculum that could both be taught or educator-led, if you will, whether [students are] in the classroom or whether engaging virtually beame important. Our platform empowers both of those types of modes of student engagement. Because it’s fully digital and because of the resources that we provide within the platform, it really lent itself quite well to having an impact, even during virtual instructional sessions during COVID.

And now we continue to grow, even as educators are heading back into the classroom but keeping in mind this hybrid learning environment, which may continue to happen some throughout this year.

So we found that delivering a fully digital curriculum that educators can use to engage students, whether they are in the classroom or virtually through our platform, made a huge difference in our ability to grow before, during and now after COVID.

Are there other companies that are providing the service you’re providing?

We are leading the way in curriculum-as-a-service, which is what we call it—this ability to provide custom, algorithm-generated curriculum. We are the only ones who can do that in the way that we do that, and so we’re very excited to both be leveraging and expanding that technology.

How many folks work for you?

We are 27 people.

Where are you headquartered?

We are in Indianapolis and we are in the Star Bank building at Meridian and 91st, and we are very much a hybrid workforce. So we have workstations where our team can come in and work, but we’re very supportive of virtual work settings, work from home.

We’ve proven that as a team, we can be very productive through COVID, but we’ve found that people have missed the opportunity for collaborating with peers in a setting. And so we’ve really created that kind of hybrid workforce, if you will, a hybrid workspace in order to support our team as they are really being amazingly successful.

Will you be adding jobs as part of the work that you’ll be doing with the new funding?

Absolutely. When we talk about scaling the go-to market team, when we talk about scaling our technology platform and then building the support around that to really help accelerate our growth, we will absolutely. We are sorting through all of the hiring that we will need to make that happen.

Do you know how many people that will be?

We’re still working on the numbers, so I don’t have an exact number, but it will be a large portion of hires. We’re looking to aggressively grow.

Codelicious are one of 10 finalists in the GSV Cup. What does that mean for the company?

I’m so excited to be representing Codelicious in the GSV Cup top 10. It is an international competition for ed-tech companies. We were originally selected in what they call The Elite 200 and we recently found out that we made the top 10.

I am pitching live at the GSV Cup in San Diego next week and there’s an element of that competition, which is audience vote—even if it’s virtual audience—and so we’d love for everyone to tune in and vote for Codelicious.

They’ll narrow it down to the top three after that, which is why audience participation matters, and then the top three will pitch for some additional funding and other things that they provide for the winners.

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