London-based computing and learn-to-code startup pi-top has closed a £3.5million ($4.3M) Series A round of funding, which was backed by Hambro Perks and Committed Capital.
The startup kicked off as a student project in 2014 to 3D print a Raspberry-Pi powered laptop and soon turned into a crowdfunding campaign for a laptop housing kit for the low-cost microprocessor. Today, it has raised more than £4.9M in total and grown its team from two to 26 in all of 18 months. Pi-top had another funding round last December, where it closed a £1.3M seed, and also took in more than $410,000 via Indiegogo to fund building its two Pi-powered products: the original pi-top laptop, and the more affordably priced pi-topCEED desktop computer. Both products shipped to backers, with the latter arriving as promised last May — and the original pi-top taking a little longer, but shipping before the end of 2015.
So far, they have managed to sell a total of 11,000 pi-tops ($265 + a Pi) and just over 10,000 pi-topCEEDs ($115 + a Pi), according to co-founder Jesse Lozano, with most being sold in the last six months as the team has ramped up in size.
As well as the hardware for housing the low-cost Raspberry Pi microcomputer, the team makes software designed to make learning code simpler and more fun for a target age range of roughly 10- to 16-year-olds.
Both devices, therefore, remain firmly rooted in the educational market, although Lozano says they do have “a significant portion” of adults buying the hardware to use it for developing apps or for working on their own electronics hobby projects. He adds:
“We focus on catering to those who want to learn which more often than not tends to be at the younger ages,”
The pi-top’s software stack includes pi-topOS, which build on the Raspberry Pi ‘s Raspbian with an easy to use interface, supporting standard computing tasks such as browsing the web, checking emails, creating and editing text documents, and playing games.
The team’s flagship software offerings are its CEEDUniverse learning game and pi-topCODER, which are both aimed at teaching coding in a gamified environment — the former being an MMORG but with the game lore inseparably connected with coding and practical computing skills.
The company claims these tools will have students achieving higher grades in computing and STEM subjects in “three to six months of play”. The umbrella goal set for the business is to build a scalable ecosystem for schools across the world to teach computer science and STEM-based subjects more effectively, which would enable teachers and learners to plug into other relevant education resources too.
In a statement to TechCrunch, Lozano said,
2016 has been a fantastic year which has seen Pi-Top products picked up by 16+ retailers and distributors, including some of the largest educational distributors in the world. We have now closed on this larger £3.5 million round in order to expand our team into the U.S. and focus on growing our user base across the education sector.
As far as their plans to expand to the US go, they’re looking at opening an office in Texas in 2017.
Also in the pipeline is expanding into China and India’s education markets, with Pi-Top working with local giant Educomp in the latter market. Other edtech distribution partnerships they’ve secured so far include with BT Education, RS Components, and Adafruit in the US. The pi-top now sells to 70 countries.
They now also boast their own purpose-built factory in China — producing more than 5,000 units each month — and are expecting to top more than 75,000 users in 2017. They have managed to upgrade from effectively making units, after crowdfunding the product development, to having the capacity to produce thousands of devices a month having completely rebuilt their assembly point in China to meet demand. Lozano goes on to say,
We are an edtech company at this point and that was largely our intent from the beginning. Although we have a good portion of sales that are retail and consumer facing, being in the DIY and STEM space does mean there is always going to be some crossover. I would say though that we do operate very differently from what most people would expect out of an education company.
Lozano says a more expensive pi-top is proving particularly popular for home and code club use, thanks to a 10+ hour battery life. The lower priced pi-topCEED, on the other hand, is selling well to schools and organizations looking for “a great low-cost computer”. More than 500 schools are using pi-tops at this point with “thousands” of students providing feedback on the CEEDUniverse game — which is still in beta at this point (and requires pi-top hardware to run it).