Google goes back to school with $40m investment

Google Capital is putting its millions to work by buying a minority stake in Renaissance Learning. What next for the tech giant?

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 19 Feb 2014

Google is flashing the cash and going back to school with its latest investment. The search leviathan’s ‘late-stage’ investment arm Google Capital has bought a $40m (£24m) minority stake in Renaissance Learning, a deal which values the education technology company at $1bn.

Renaissance Learning makes cloud-based learning software, but is most definitely a ‘late-stage’ company rather than a small fry start-up. The company was founded in the 1980s and bought by British private equity firm Permira for $455m in 2011. Around 20 million students and teachers in more than 60 countries now use its software.

Perhaps that’s why Google didn’t open its billion dollar jaws to swallow Renaissance Learning up then. The internet behemoth has been on an acquisition spree for  the last few months, snapping up companies in everything from robotics and artificial intelligence to connected home appliances recently.

However, Google backed digital thermostat maker Nest through its early-stage investment vehicle Google Ventures, before buying it for $3.2bn in January. It may be interested in more than return on investment from Renaissance Learning then – after all Google has educational versions of Gmail, Google Docs and its Chromebook laptops.

‘A lot of people are talking about disruption in education, but these guys are actually doing it,’ Google Capital head David Lawee told Bloomberg. Lawee used to run Google’s mergers and acquisitions, fyi, and the search giant does like to think of itself as ‘disprutive’.

Google Capital has $300m to invest this year, after first putting money into online survey company Survey Monkey and peer-to-peer lending poster child Lending Club in 2013. It plans to do another five or six deals this year, Lawee told Bloomberg, and is interested in other education investments as well as companies which target small and medium sized companies, where Google is trying to boost software and service sales.

The internet company isn’t just after new ideas though. ‘There is a talent war going on for the future,’ UCLA business professor George Geis told CBC. So when Google bought artificial intelligence company DeepMind for $400m last month, it was also buying super brain and former teen chess prodigy Demis Hassabis.

Seem’s the sky’s the limit for Google and its apparently never-ending pot of cash.

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