Pandora for education, Curiosity.com, raises $6M from several big Chicago VCs

by Kate Rosow Chrisman
November 11, 2014

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Curiosity.com wants to change your daily digital diet. 

Often referred to as the Pandora of the education space, the Chicago-based site announced it raised $6 million in Series A funding earlier today and is spinning out from Discovery Communications. The move comes just after the company came out of beta testing.

Unsegmenting Education

“We’ve become very effective at being the place where people go to learn just for the sake of learning,” said curiosity.com’s CEO Gabe Vehovsky.

It’s part of the company’s mission to help change the digital diet to swing towards more education, in whatever form that takes.

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Online education companies are no longer novel and the company isn’t trying to compete in that space. Instead, the web-based platform takes users on a learning journey from fun, educational memes to serious university curriculum, aggregating courses from its network of content partners. In doing so, it hopes to capture its learner’s imagination and inspire curiosity.com.

Similar to the way Pandora helps listeners explore new music, curiosity.com’s platform helps users – everyday people – learn something new. For Vehovsky, who spent 2013 exploring the education space as executive VP of Strategy at Discovery, he saw lots of new, engaging content coming online, but a difficulty for the content producers to get it in the right hands.  The company started to “create a place that helps connect those that want to learn with those designing content meant to teach,” said Vehovsky.

Users have access to over 500,000 courses, classes and tutorials, with over 300 partners.  The startup has big ambitions; they plan to offer 1 million courses by the end of the first quarter 2015. The team defines education broadly — courses don’t have to be university-level math to get on the site. Anything that meets their threshold of exchanging knowledge is fair game. That means those university math classes are there, but so is a meme on the difference between horns and antlers

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Funding

Seeing themselves as a tech company instead of just an education platform, the funding will be used to improve their platform and the recommendation capabilities for users. 

The $6 million was raised from local investors, including Pritzker Group Venture CapitalOrigin Ventures,Chicago Ventures and Corazon Capital. While the team looked beyond Chicago for it’s funding, “local money was my distinct preference,” said Vehovsky

One reason: getting the chance to meet face to face with their investors and use them as mentors was important to the growing company. 

Beyond the ambitions to offer more courses next year with the new infusion of cash, the company is looking at expanding beyond video to areas like podcasts and connecting users with local tutors.

Startup Culture

While curiosity.com is spinning out from Discovery Communications, the latter will remain on as an investor. The move allows the company to be fully immersed in the startup world instead of remaining housed in a large, international media company. This will help attract talent, especially as the company will now be able to offer equity, something that wasn’t possible as part of a large company.

Still, curiosity.com isn’t completely cutting ties. Discovery Communications will provide support in the form of promotions, something that Vehovsky points out is highly unusual for a startup. 

The 14-person team is tech-heavy and will remain so for the foreseeable future. With their focus on mobile apps, the company will be hiring additional engineering talent. They will also look for business development and sales roles down the line.  

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