A digital model of a woman with short dark hair and a green jacket pictured in the corner of the computer screen stops a student mid-sentence. The student has mispronounced the word “stripes” as “strips.”
The model, Amira, states a word that rhymes with “stripes” to help the student. “Now you try reading this word,” Amira says in a robotic tone. “Strips,” the student says slowly. “Stripes.”
“Keep going,” Amira says, giving the student permission to continue reading the passage aloud.
Such is a typical interaction between readers in grades K-3 and Amira the computer model, part of a reading assessment tool created by startup Amira Learning. Currently used in about about 20 school districts nationwide, the San Francisco-based company hopes to dramatically grow that number with an injection of new capital.
Amira Learning has raised $5 million in a Series A round, bringing its total capital raised to $8 million. Owl Ventures led this round with participation from GSV AcceleraTE, Rethink Education and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the textbook publisher and a distribution partner of Amira’s.
A demonstration of Amira from Amira Learning’s YouTube channel.
The tool listens as students read passages aloud and through speech recognition technology determines how well they read. It even track any hints of learning disorders such as dyslexia, claims CEO Mark Angel, 61. Amira licensed the algorithms powering its tool from Carnegie Mellon University, and the assessment content is licensed from the University of Houston and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
The professors who created the algorithms and content serve as advisers and consultants to Amira. Angel says those investments will keep Amira ahead of any competitors. “The IP in Amira is impossible to replicate at this point,” he claims.
Schools that currently use the tool include Stockton Unified School District in California and the St. Joachim Catholic School in Hayward, Calif.
Amira Assessment costs about $5 per student per year. Dyslexia Screener costs about $2.50 per student, and interactive Amira Practice costs about $10 per user.
Amira was originally created in March 2017 as Lexa Reading. Angel joined Amira as CEO in June 2018, having previously served as Renaissance Learning’s chief technology officer for over five years. Angel says he already foresees raising a future Series B that will put the company closer to $20 million in total capital raised.
The company has about 15 full-time employees. Angel hopes to grow the team with new data scientists and customer support specialists. He also plans to grow its footprint to international markets and create a direct-to-consumer product. Efforts are also underway to add Spanish language support to assist those who are learning English as a second language.