Riiid raises $41.8 million to expand its AI test prep apps

Riiid, a Seoul, South Korea-based startup developing AI test prep solutions, today closed a $41.8 million pre-series D financing round, bringing its total venture capital raised to date to $70.2 million. CEO YJ Jang says the funding will be used to advance Riiid’s technology that offers personalized study solutions based on big data analysis, and to bolster the company’s expansion across the U.S., South America, and the Middle East as it establishes an R&D lab — Riiid Labs — in Silicon Valley.

The pandemic has forced the shutdown of schools in countries around the world; cramped indoor classrooms are seen as a major threat vector. Despite inequities with regard to internet access and the widening achievement gap, it’s the belief of educators that the health pros outweigh the cons. Riiid, which offers its services exclusively online, has been a beneficiary of the shift. The company claims sales have grown more than 200% since 2017 as over a million users joined its community.

Riiid’s platform — Santa — is a mobile study aid for the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) English proficiency exam. (Unlike the better-known TOEFL or IELTS tests, which are used by Western universities and colleges as part of their admissions process, TOEIC is primarily used by employers to assess the English proficiency of prospective hires.) Leveraging AI and machine learning algorithms, Santa analyzes responses to predict scores and recommend personalized review plans. A meta-learning log with over 100 million pools of information supplies insights to support Santa, as well as Riiid’s other systems.

Santa primarily lives on the web, but it’s also available as a chatbot for smart speakers from Kakao. In Japan, Riiid teamed up with game developer KLab Langoo to design a mobile-optimized version of Santa.

According to Jang, the goal is to help achieve learning objectives through continuous evaluation and feedback rather than specific prep. “The engineers called the app ‘Santa’ because it collects data on student performance in the way that Santa Claus famously keeps track of children’s good deeds and bad,” he told VentureBeat via email. “We launched Santa in the Korean market, focusing on preparing students for the TOEIC exam because it was an easy target that would validate — or invalidate — our research findings. More than a million students in Korea and Japan have now used the Santa app and I can proudly report that it works. We raise scores by an average of 129 points out of a possible 990 on the TOEIC exam at a fraction of the time and cost it takes with traditional test-prep courses or personal tutors.”

After launching Santa in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, Riiid plans to pivot to backend curriculum solutions for companies, school districts, and education ministries. Earlier this year, the company published EdNet, a data set of all student-system interactions collected over two years by Santa. And Riiid is expanding its platform to standardized tests like the SAT and ACT and it claims it’s signed memorandums of understanding with customers in the Middle East and U.S. (like private education center company Point Avenue) to develop programs for specific courses of study.

Riiid’s latest funding round included an investment from the state-run Korea Development Bank (KDB), NVESTOR, Intervest as well as from an existing investor IMM Investment. According to LinkedIn data, the startup employs about 80 people.

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