Lab equipment is expensive and budget constraints often result in students missing out on core skills like learning how to sequence data or use a high-tech microscope.
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Copenhagen startup Labster is hoping to capitalize on that gap. The company, which brings virtual STEM labs to students, just secured $21 million in a series B.
Labster currently partners with 150 high schools and universities and serves 200,000 students.
The fresh cash will help it expand in more subject areas. And while it’s based internationally, co-founder Michael Bodekaer told Crunchbase News that they plan to ramp up presence in the United States specifically.
Bodekaer describes his company as an “immersive learning experience.” The content is based on real-world challenges that help students apply their skills.
Like many other e-learning platforms, Labster tries to broaden its customer base so that its product can work on even low-grade electronics, like a $50 phone or a Chromebook, which usually sells for less than $200. The company also considers students with disabilities in its product offerings.
For now, the majority of the company’s consumer base is private schools, compared to their public counterparts. The co-founder says that this might be because private schools tend to adopt technology more easily for competitive purposes. There’s less urgency in public schools, although the company works to be inclusive, Bodekaer said.
“Even the most expensive universities cannot even afford to be up to speed and cutting edge,” he said.
Although virtual learning is often touted as a method that makes education more accessible, a recent New York Times article reported on technical, social, and health challenges with one implementation by Summit, an e-learning software company funded by power couple Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.
So where does that leave companies like Labster? Labster’s solution is to work closely with teachers after they purchase the system to ensure a smooth transition. One end-user includes Cindy Malone, a professor of biology at California State University Northridge. Labster was introduced to move the university’s labs online for its Intro to Biology course. As a whole students love it, Malone told Crunchbase News. But “those that are less technically skilled or have issues with access to computer or wi-fi are the only ones that seem to dislike the system at all.”
For Malone, what matters now is that students are accomplishing tasks previously impossible in a traditional lab. Prior to Labster, trying to give 1,200 students the opportunity to learn in a wet lab was impossible. Now she says, with the opportunity to go online, learning can be whatever you want it to be.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias.