Top Hat is trying to innovate a sector that epitomizes tradition and legacy: higher education. The Toronto startup wants to help textbook publishers bring their content from print-only to digitally palatable. And, since it’s 2020, add fully customizable and interactive lessons to that mix, too.
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Top Hat has just announced a $55 million Series D, a mix of equity and debt, co-led by existing investors Georgian Partners and Inovia Capital. Other existing investors also participated in the round, including Union Square Ventures, Emergence Capital and Leaders Fund.
The startup is hacking itself into the age-old system by setting up partnerships with the publishers behind the textbooks, namely Fountainhead Press and Bluedoor Publishing. According to Top Hat, “more than 2.7 million students are enrolled in courses using Top Hat at 750 of the top 1,000 higher ed institutions in North America.”
“When 65 percent of students are opting not to buy the latest editions of already-out-of-date textbooks, the fix is in: Something’s rotten in the state of educational publishing,” Top Hat’s website reads.
But it’s more than a digital version of a textbook. The startup can offer teachers features to engage students, such as discussion boards. For both teachers and students, that level of interaction is even more important to anyone who has ever been to an 8 a.m. lecture (and forgotten their coffee at home).
Features for the “all in one teaching app” range from checking homework to sending test questions, and giving professors the ability to author their own textbooks.
There’s also a Top Hat marketplace to exchange textbooks and provide interactions between teachers to ensure content matches the ever-changing landscape.
Finally, when it comes to education, any conversation that has to do with access to resources must address affordability, too. The startup charges $4 a month for its teaching platform and $35 per book, which is more affordable to students than buying the paper-only copy. A significant savings, the company claims, as the average full-time student spends over $1,000 on textbooks every year.
Along with the fundraise announcement, Top Hat announced the recipients of its scholarship, which awards five kids in North America a combined $100,000 for academics.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias