Bamboo Learning lands $1.4M from Amazon and others to expand voice tech in education

The Luminaries skill. (Bamboo Learning Photo)

Bamboo Learning, a Seattle startup co-founded by ex-Amazon executive Ian Freed, wants to simplify education with interactive voice lessons. And it just landed a $1.4 million seed round to make it happen.

Investors in the round include Amazon’s Alexa Fund, Wavemaker Partners, Unlock Venture Partners, VoicePunch, and technology industry veterans from Amazon, Apple, Disney, and Microsoft. Bamboo Learning will use the funds to hire software engineers and content producers to speed up development of new applications.

In addition to the funding round, Bamboo Learning announced its fifth Alexa skill. Bamboo Luminaries is an educational game that
showcases influential historical figures from a variety of fields. Luminaries joins Bamboo’s catalog of skills focused on areas like math, reading and music.

Bamboo Learning CEO Ian Freed. (Bamboo Learning Photo)

“Bamboo Learning is a true innovator in developing entertaining educational Alexa skills like Bamboo Luminaries, which just came out today,” said Paul Bernard, director of the Amazon Alexa Fund, which first invested in Bamboo Learning last year. “They work with speed and precision and, given all they’ve accomplished already, we’re excited about the products Bamboo Learning will continue to develop, build and share with customers.”

In June 2018, Freed — who once headed Amazon’s Echo business — launched Bamboo Learning with the interactive Bamboo Music skill. Co-founder Irina Fine is a 30-year veteran of elementary education curriculum development and teaching. Freed serves as CEO and Fine as COO and senior vice president of content.

Building the curriculum around Alexa gives the startup a huge potential audience, with more than 100 million devices worldwide powered by Amazon’s digital assistant. Bamboo Learning’s educational skills are available in more than 80 countries, including India, the U.K. and most of Europe, as well as Canada and Australia.

However, the flip side of relying heavily on Alexa is the challenge of standing out from the digital assistant sea of skills, now at more than 100,000. The startup is counting on targeted marketing, and word of mouth from both students and teachers to separate itself from the other skills out there.

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