An advertisement served up by Google changed Amanda DoAmaral’s life.
At the age of 27, feeling burned out, she’d left a teaching career in Oakland, Calif., and moved back home. But she was helping students – about 2,500 of them, by that point, study for the AP History and AP World exams. The Advanced Placement exams allow high schoolers who pass college credits, allowing them to save money on tuition.
After she left, “my former students reached out to me, and I started livestreaming for them,” she said. Word quickly spread, which didn’t surprise her, so she reached out to other teachers to get more material. “My theory of education is that all kids want to do well,” she explained in an interview.
One day she was searching for something online when she saw an advertisement for an accelerator called Beta Boom.
“Wait a second,” she remembers thinking. “There’s accelerators that will invest in you because you have an idea? I was living with my mom. I was like, ‘Hold up. Did you know about this?'”
That was in 2018. This morning, she announced $2.3 million in funding for her startup, Fiveable, a social network and learning platform for students that is serving about 100,000 students a week. The round was led by BBG Ventures with Additional Support from Metrodora Ventures – Chelsea Clinton’s new venture fund – and Deborah Quazzo, managing partner of GSV Advisors, which specializes in edtech.
“We’re on a rocket ship,” said DoAmaral.
A Business Model For The Middle Class
AP exams can give high school students a huge boost in going to college, but whether or not a student does well (credit typically comes with a score of 3-5) depends a lot on the quality of the teaching, which varies by district. In addition, wealthy districts offer lots of AP classes to prepare students for the tests; poor districts may not offer a wide selection. Many well-to-do parents hire tutors to help their children score high on the exams, which can also help in college admissions.
Fiveable’s mission is to broaden access — “democratize education” — by offering the course materials and support to anyone. Most of Fiveable’s content is free, but the company charges $55 for AP prep classes and $5 for single live streams – cram sessions with teachers. “I didn’t want anything to be more expensive than my mom could have paid,” said DoAmaral.
Other investors in the round included Spero Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, Cream City Venture Capital, 27V, Golden Angel Investors, and SoGal, according to a press release. The investment in Fiveable is one of the first to be publicly announced by Clinton’s new venture fund. DoAmaral said a mutual acquaintance introduced her to Clinton, the daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and she was impressed by her questions. “There’s plenty of times I’ve pitched, where I can tell they don’t understand the space,” she said. “The investors that asked questions that pushed our thinking … these are the people that really stood out to me, and understood what was at stake.
“They saw that mission and saw it in us. We chose to work with them.”
She said she pitched 300-400 investors to reach the company’s current funding level.
DoAmaral grew up near Boston and went to Boston University. She studied history, and discovered when she took an intro to teaching class that “I liked being with the students. I felt I could really … make an impact there.”
Through Teach for America, she landed in Oakland. “I was a teacher of 9th and 10th grade history, and I taught a lot of AP classes,” she said. What she found first-hand disturbed her.
“The inequities that are existing are really affecting students,” she said. “It creates the need for students to fend for themselves.”
She left after the spring of 2017. “I was at my school for five years. I loved being with students,” she said. “I found the bureaucracy of the district to be what was burning me out.”
She traveled, worked on a primary campaign in New York’s 19th district and wondered what to do next. Meanwhile, Fiveable was starting to take shape around her. That’s when Beta Boom wandered on to her screen. Based in Chicago and Salt Lake City, it runs a six-month program for overlooked founders.
“Beta Boom is for underdogs that are looking to prove something to the world and make people’s lives better,” says the accelerators’s site. That sounded like her.
DoAmaral went to Chicago location. The acclerator invested $20,000 in Fiveable, and followed on with another $20,000.
Her next accelerator was Gener8tor, which took the company to Milwaukee, where it is headquartered. Gener8tor invested $100,000. Both accelerators took some equity in exchange for funding and a chance to participate in their programs.
By the end of 2019, the company had raised $615,000. That’s when COVID-19 hit, and “the machines turned on.” The company has grown to have 15 employees.
For DoAmaral, it’s an opportunity, and a moment of apprehension. Students all over the country are anxious and overwhelmed, she said, as the online learning adopted during the pandemic is expected to set students who are behind, even further back. “They want to be part of these conversations,” she said. “The industry itself is finally joining us in this century. Everyone is open to innovation because we have to be.”
That openness could allow her, as a CEO, to scale her impact as a teacher. One of the things that troubled her most was seeing that kids weren’t allowed in to her AP classes. They might have a low reading level, she said.
But she sees the chance to open up the classrooms to everyone. “Even if you get a 1, you could have grown more than someone who got a 5,” she said.
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