Edtech startup secures £4.5 million funding round to fire up expansion
May 16th 2017
Firefly Learning achieves largest early stage fundraising in Edtech sector
(London, UK) Firefly Learning, an Edtech business dreamt up by two London school boys to help them revise for exams, has secured the biggest series A fundraising ever seen in the UK Edtech sector. The online tool, which can be used by teachers, students and parents, has raised £4.5 million from BGF Ventures and Beringea*. BGF Ventures is the leading investor, contributing £3 million.
Schools use Firefly to save their teachers time, let students learn in ways that work best for them, and engage parents in their child’s school journey. Firefly can set homework, create resources, and track progress, and has been proven to raise attainment and help schools achieve their increasingly demanding targets.
Firefly was built specifically for schools, rather than adapting a model designed for businesses or universities, and can integrate easily with the software they already use.
Firefly is now used by 480 schools in 32 countries, covering some 400,000 pupils. From day one the business has been trading profitably, with 98 per cent of schools renewing their contracts each year. Revenues at Firefly Learning have doubled year on year. With a strong footing in the independent sector, Firefly has seen significant recent growth in the state sector, an area identified as having strong potential in the UK. Internationally, Firefly will invest to expand its Australian operations and growth in other countries.
“There are three-quarters of a billion school age children around the world, but education is one of those industries that hasn’t really changed at all in the way that lessons are taught and homework is handed out. Teachers, parents and pupils are heavily reliant on pieces of paper and it can be hard for parents to monitor what a student is doing,” Simon Hay, co-founder of Firefly Learning says.
“Firefly Learning has developed a way to connect students, teachers and pupils so that they can collaborate even when they are not face to face, so that resources can be made available easily and curated properly and so that teachers can set and mark tasks quickly and easily, while allowing parents greater participation, which has been shown to improve results overall.”
Founders Hay and Joe Mathewson want the system to be as easy to use as sending an email, so that all staff can use its features quickly. Mathewson says: “Some teachers are still quite wary of using technology as part of their job, but we’ve always been incredibly focused on making it as easy to possible to use. If they can write an email, they can create a learning resource for their pupils on Firefly.”
The money raised will be used to develop the Firefly product through research and development and expand the sales and marketing team. Firefly currently has 50 staff in offices in Hammersmith and in Sydney and the next stage of growth will see the company double in size. With the move to push responsibility for school budgets down to head teachers and away from local authorities, there is an opportunity to introduce lots more schools across the state sector to the Firefly platform.
Simon Calver, founding partner at BGF Ventures, says: “There are lots of apps and platforms for schools out there but Firefly has created a complete platform that integrates reminders, messaging, homework setting activities and learning resources. It is easy for teachers, pupils and parents to use the platform and can transform the way schools are run, so that everyone is using their time fruitfully to improve education results for pupils. Firefly is already an international business operating in over thirty countries and we think this product has the potential to be the foremost platform in the global Edtech space.”
Stuart Veale, managing partner at Beringea, added: “We are delighted to be investing in Firefly alongside BGF Ventures. Simon, Joe, and the Firefly team have built an exceptionally strong product, as demonstrated by its high loyalty amongst teachers and schools. This new funding round will provide the company with the resources to continue its rapid growth and to enter its next phase of development. We look forward to working with the company to help it expand its presence in both the UK and elsewhere.”
Schools in the UK spend £900 million a year on education technology and are being encouraged to use it more widely to help improve their pupils performance. At the same time schools are under pressure to raise educational standards, while seeing budgets squeezed. Firefly represents excellent value for money, giving annual access to a multi-featured platform for little more than the cost of a homework diary per pupil.
The idea for an online tool like Firefly was crystallised when founders Simon Hay and Joe Mathewson were teenagers and students at St Paul’s School in West London. “Joe and I were friends at school and we first started developing this idea for a business when we were 13 or 14 and staring at a pile of revision notes on a bedroom floor. We thought there has to be a better way to organise school work, which has hardly changed since Victorian times. We started experimenting with programming and built a new intranet for our school, so we could access homework and resources from our computers,” Simon Hay, co-founder, says.
By the time the boys began their A levels, students and teachers had uploaded over 10,000 pages of content and teachers relied heavily on the intranet, created by the pupils, as a school resource.
Hay and Mathewson went on to Oxford, where Hay eventually completed a PhD in computer science, before going to work at Goldman Sachs for a year. Meanwhile, Mathewson, who was a Politics, Philosophy and Economics graduate, worked on the algorithmic trading desk at UBS.
Over the years they continued developing their plans for an education technology product and talked to schools, who showed increasing interest. By 2010 it was clear that there was a viable business in their plans so they gave up their City jobs, at the age of 24, to devote themselves full-time to building Firefly. St Paul’s School in West London, where they had met and originally came up with their idea, was their first customer.
Today, Firefly is used in more than 400 schools across the UK – including Charterhouse and Sevenoaks School and an increasing number of state schools.
Firefly Learning charges schools on a per student basis, with schools typically paying between £7–12 per student.