Formative Raises $70M as Edtech Goes Back to School

Sarah Favot

Favot is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She previously was an investigative and data reporter at national education news site The 74 and local news site LA School Report. She's also worked at the Los Angeles Daily News. She was a Livingston Award finalist in 2011 and holds a Master's degree in journalism from Boston University and BA from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.

Formative Raises $70M as Edtech Goes Back to School

Craig Jones, co-founder and CEO of Formative, a platform that helps teachers track real-time student data, wants to live in a world where students don't have to take a final exam at the end of the school year.

Founded in 2013, his software platform allows teachers to see students' level of comprehension and achievement in real time, allowing teachers to assess students as they learn and adjust the curriculum to focus on areas where students may need more help.

"There will be a day where students don't take a big test at the end of the year as a school's primary way to assess student learning," Jones said in an interview.

The software enables teachers to give timely feedback to the student, rather than students having to wait for teachers to grade an exam for the entire class.

Jones wants to build even more features for teachers and more services for school leaders. On Tuesday, he got a boost to do just that with a $70 million Series A funding round led by global growth investor Summit Partners, with participation from existing investors including Emerson Collective, Fika Ventures, Mac Ventures and Rethink Education.

He said the company plans to triple its headcount to 150 this year as they build partnerships with top content providers and publishers and expand into additional markets.

Jones started creating solutions to help improve data collection and feedback for his students when he was teaching for Teach For America at a Los Angeles Unified School District middle school from 2008 to 2012. Jones then went on to co-found the company with Kevin McFarland in 2013 when they were UCLA graduate students.

Formative, like many edtech companies, saw growth during the pandemic, becoming an integral part of the classroom as learning shifted online, after Formative launched its COVID assistance program. That program gave teachers and their students free access to features that would normally cost money.

The company found many of those teachers kept using its service even as they returned to their classrooms.

"We were feeling like the solution that helped them during the virtual environment was just as applicable and maybe even more useful when they had all the students in the same room," Jones said. "It put us in the position where the growth would sustain into the future…and we would be part of the future of what school looks like."

Formative assessments, from which the company gets its name, have become more common in classrooms recently. Formative assessments include things like short, informal quizzes at the end of the lesson, or even in the middle, that can give teachers a snapshot of a student's understanding.

Experts have encouraged teachers to use them to improve student learning, rather than wait for "summative" assessments like a final exam or a standardized test. The approach gives educators timely data that indicate students' skill level and their progress toward learning standards before a course has been completed.

Inspired by the concept, Formative lets students submit video and audio clips, images, drawings or file uploads to respond to questions. In addition to instant results, teachers can see their students' performance over a longer period of time.

Formative said four million students engaged with the platform in the past year. The company added that it has an annual recurring revenue growth of about 700%.

Jones said 92% of all school districts in the U.S. have at least one teacher who uses Formative. Some school districts such as Omaha Public Schools, Atlanta Public Schools and Portland Public Schools have contracts with Formative.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.