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Yammer co-founder Adam Pisoni raises $4.5 million for Abl Schools

TechCrunch TechCrunch 1/04/2016 Lora Kolodny

A co-founder and former CTO of Yammer, Adam Pisoni, quietly raised a $4.5 million first round of venture funding for his new education tech startup in January. This week, he revealed what Always Be Learning Inc., known as Abl Schools, is working on.

Most edtech startups in the U.S. today– if they’re not building schools from scratch like AltSchool or D.Tech Academy— are creating things for use in the classroom like parent-teacher communication apps, or digital-curriculum, -gradebooks, -testing and -tutoring platforms.

San Francisco-based Abl Schools (pronounced “able” schools) is developing cloud-based software to help school administrators create and tweak master schedules for their schools.

Scheduling and resource allocation software should help schools save time and money, and ultimately make them more adaptive to the needs of their students, Pisoni says.

The Abl Schools app, still in development, can help principals and superintendents figure out how many teachers, coaches and counselors are available within their system, and who has what specialties. The app then helps administrators schedule educators and plan courses or activities responding to students’ needs as they change over time.

Pisoni said he was inspired to put his technical expertise to work in the field of education reflecting on his own decision to drop out of high school.

“I grew up in a normal neighborhood outside of Phoenix. At school I found myself bored and thinking ‘This is a waste of time.’ So I left. We should not waste a valuable developmental period in people’s lives, or resources especially in cash-strapped public schools,” he said.

Pisoni see’s Abl Schools’ technology as analogous to the software used by hospitals to ensure that patients get the attention they need from the right doctors and specialists when they need it.

The startup intends to deliver reports to school districts or principals about how well they used their human capital in the past, and what it would take to alter a school’s schedule to make room for things the community wants and students need.

Education-specialized fund Owl Ventures led the investment in ABL joined by another education investment firm, Reach Capital, and First Round Capital.

Owl Ventures’ Jed Smith said he expects ABL to use the funding to get to “proof of concept” working with select, pilot schools and districts to test its software.

“Linking information about the use of teachers’ time to information about learning outcomes for students could be enormously powerful for administrators,” the investor said. “But even giving schools simple scheduling software that saves them time, energy and all the frustration of rearranging things with sticky notes and white boards is enough to sell this product for a fair price.”

Smith also said Owl backed Abl Schools because of Pisoni’s track record.

Before Slack, Yammer was the most buzz-generating enterprise communication tool going. It is still a growing business, now owned by Microsoft which completed its acquisition of Yammer for $1.2 billion in July 2012.

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