Online learning startup ApprenNet closed a $1.8 million funding round from a mix of Philly investors and high-profile edtech investors. It’s the company’s first round of institutional funding.
The news comes shortly after two major events for the company: its merger with San Francisco firm Handsfree Learning and the tragic death of its CEO Rachel Jacobs in May’s Amtrak crash.
"We believe we're going to become a Philadelphia startup success story and we want the Philly investor community to share in the upside."
The round was led by New York City-based Martellus Holdings, a firm whose founder Nick Hammerschlag has investment ties to Instructure, an edtech company that’s planning its IPO. (Martellus is also an investor in local firm Monetate. The firm’s managing partner, Nick Hammerschlag, invested in Monetate when he was with OpenView Partners.)
Other investors include Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Penn’s Education Design Studio, Inc. (of which ApprenNet was a part), a new fund from Washington, D.C. incubator 1776, the University of Virginia’s Jefferson Education Fund and New York City-based City Light Capital, an investor in 2U, an online learning company that went public last year.
ApprenNet cofounder and Chief Customer Officer Emily Foote said it was important for Philly investors be part of the round because of the company’s strong ties to the city.
“We were founded here, many of us grew up in Philly, a lot of us, including team members in San Francisco, went to college in here, and we have a strong Philly customer base,” she wrote in an email. “We wanted to continue to strengthen those ties by including Philly investors in our first round. We believe we’re going to become a Philadelphia startup success story and we want the Philly investor community to share in the upside.”
The money will be used for product development and customer acquisition, said newly-installed CEO Paul Freedman, who came from Handsfree Learning. ApprenNet plans to double its 16-person staff in the next year, with most of that growth happening in the Philly office, he said.
Why grow an office here and not in the Bay Area, where its product development and engineering leads are based? (Both came from Handsfree.)
“Philly,” Foote said, “is an incredible place to grow an education tech company.”
There’s the often cited lower-cost of living and the proximity to recent college grads. But the more unique upside for AppreNet is that Philly offers “customers that are excited and willing to move beyond a pure transactional relationship.”
Foote wrote: “The university system in Philadelphia has been a consistent, generous thought partner to ApprenNet. Since our early days, clients like Drexel, Penn, University of the Sciences, Peirce, DeSales and West Chester University have all shared their feedback and expertise to help us build an exceptional learning platform.”
“We’ve been quite lucky to have our roots in Philly and we’re very excited to continue to grow here,” she said.