Indianapolis-based ed-tech firm Willo acquired by textbook retailer Follett

Indianapolis-based education-tech firm Willo Labs Inc. has been acquired by Chicago-based Follett Higher Education—a move that Follett said will set the stage for significant growth at Willo over the next 18 months.

Follett declined to reveal financial terms of the deal, which closed on Oct. 13.

Willo, which was founded in 2016 by Andy Hall, Kate McKain and Matt Hanger, offers a software platform that enables schools to link and manage digital textbooks and course materials, making it easier for students to access the materials via the school’s learning management system.

The company has 15 employees, most of whom work out of shared offices in Broad Ripple, Carmel and Zionsville. A few others are remote employees who live outside of the area.

Follett, which has 6,000 employees around the U.S., provides education technology, services and print and digital content. The company also operates 1,100 brick-and-mortar college retail stores and 1,750 online college stores. Follett’s collegiate customers in Indiana include Butler University, Franklin College, IUPUI, Indiana University, Marian University and the University of Indianapolis, among others.

All of Willo’s employees will remain with the company, and the company is expecting to grow its workforce significantly.

Follett also plans to retain the Willo name.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Hall, who serves as Willo’s CEO.

Follett President Ryan Petersen said he expects to expand Willo’s employee count to grow to 40 or 50 over the next 12 to 18 months, with most Willo employees still based in the Indianapolis area.

Hall said Willo had been interested for a time in working with Follett in some way, whether it be a merger, acquisition or some other arrangement. The two companies worked together on a pilot project in 2019.

When Follett hired Ryan Petersen as its president earlier this year, the time seemed right to move forward in exploring a potential partnership, Hall said.

For his part, Petersen said he’d also had his eye on Willo over the years. Peterson was the co-founder of San Francisco-based Verba Software, a company that competed with Willo.

“We spent a lot of years trying to built what Willo built, and never really made it there,” Petersen said.

Verba was acquired by Raleigh, North Carolina-based VitalSource Technologies LLC in 2017. Petersen left VitalSource for Follett in February, and a couple of months later he reached out to Willo to talk with Hall about a potential partnership.

Follett was founded in 1873 by Charles M. Barnes, who started the business as a used book store that initially operated out of his home in Wheaton, Illinois. The company went through various name changes and evolutions after that. In 1930, the company began wholesaling used college text books and opened its first on-campus college bookstore.

More recently, Follett has been shifting more of its emphasis to educational technology, as more and more course content migrates to digital formats.•

Correction: This story has been corrected to say that VitalSource Technologies LLC acquired Verba Software. A previous version incorrectly said that VitalSource had acquired Willo. 

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