Education Venture Analyst Report: TopHat

My EVA Report puts the spotlight on Top Hat, a private company founded in 2009 by Mike Silgadze (CEO) and Mohsen Shahini (CAO) in Waterloo, Ontario. Top Hat received $200,000 funding in 2010 from an angel investor for their web-based “clicker” solution for multiple-choice question delivery and has since then become renowned for raising capital up to $104 million USD. It’s a tech company that is becoming a publisher via mergers without the pains of a traditional publisher becoming a tech company, operating similarly to the GitHub model where collaborators contribute updates to content and courseware.

Read the Q4_2020_Education_Venture_Analyst_Report_TopHat

I selected this company for review for two unequally interesting purposes. First, I had an interesting opportunity to meet the founders on a few occasions between 2010 and 2011 while our companies were in the early stages of a potential B2B venture. Top Hat had difficulty demonstrating the capabilities of their mobile technology on each occasion. That coupled with no current Canadian business ended the relationship. The company is quite operational now, and I was interested to see what the company changed to become successful.

This is what the product looked like in 2012:

Second, Top Hat has become much more than a clicker company. It has changed its product offerings and business model to include a complete virtual classroom with customizable interactive textbooks and labs. Their ability to offer low-cost solutions for students, while primarily aiming their services at instructors instead of institutions and securing large venture funding opportunities to promote growth made this a company worth another, closer look at their offerings and potential.

This is what Top Hat offers in 2020:

I chose a text-based analyst report similar to the type that are used in finance analyst reports, and opted not to create an interactive site simply because I do not build a website to present a business case in my current role in educational publishing and I do not think that prospective educators need or desire more than the facts. I had hoped to draw a clear line of opportunities both for educators and investors. On reflection, I think that I could have focused more on the advantages for the main customers, instructors, and how the full suite of services can help educators to create their own interactive course materials using the Top Hat authoring tool, draw in OER, or use and modify a large set of interactive textbooks growing rapidly thanks to the acquisitions of Nelson Education and Bluedoor in 2020 (~800 textbooks total).

My later venture pitch will be more interactive and will focus on this type of intersection of academic and for-profit industry, where stronger relationships can be fostered among academic professionals (faculty, assessment experts) and industry professionals (instructional designers, data scientists, software engineers) to work toward the design and development of best-in-class online learning experiences. I would like to explore the connections between academic and for-profit content and technology providers and the type of work-experience learning offered by universities with the needs of employers that support educational co-op programs.

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