Top Hat Raises $10.5 Million for Mobile Teacher Tools

Education startup Top Hat has raised $10.5 million in Series B funding, having evolved from a company that helps professors give instant quizzes on students’ mobile phones to a broader teaching tool.

The round was led by Georgian Partners and included previous investors like Emergence Capital Partners and iNovia Capital. Toronto-based Top Hat has about $20 million in total funding.

Now used at more than 400 universities by some 300,000 students, Top Hat helps professors get real-time feedback, share homework, measure class participation and set up study tournaments.

To be honest, the Top Hat concept seems a little nebulous when described, but Top Hat CEO Mike Silagadze gave some more concrete examples: A chemistry professor at University of Waterloo wrote his own interactive organic chemistry textbook using Top Hat; various professors run live study sessions using Top Hat in which students compete to answer questions and receive personalized study guides at the end.

In general, said Silagadze, “What it looks like is a professor can walk around with [an] iPad, get instant feedback, and have a seamless experience where they’re running their course from [an] iPad through lecture.”

Silagadze added that unlike some other edtech startups, Top Hat makes money — “many millions of dollars in revenue” per year. Top Hat is sold like a textbook, where professors include it in their curriculum, and students pay $20 to subscribe. This is BYOD for education — students use whatever phones they already have.

If enough students use it at one university, the company will try to upsell the university on a site license. “We insist it is optional. We don’t want students forced to use it. But 90 percent participate,” said Silagadze.

Next for Top Hat is adding to its staff of about 90 and continuing its expansion into corporate training. Expansion into high school teaching is unlikely for the time being, Silagadze said.