HLT closes $1M seed round, strives to release 24 new apps this year

Just more than a year after launching its first product, Coralville, Iowa-based Higher Learning Technologies has announced the completion of a $1 million seed round. Among the round's notable investors are former ACT CEO Richard Ferguson, Involta founder and CEO Bruce Lehrman and Josh Cramer of Iowa City, Iowa-based Cramer Dev ...

Higher Learning Technologies took home three Golden Analogs at the 2013 Silicon Prairie Awards.

Just more than a year after launching its first product, Coralville, Iowa-based Higher Learning Technologies has announced the completion of a $1 million seed round.

Among the round’s notable investors are former ACT CEO Richard Ferguson, Involta founder and CEO Bruce Lehrman and Josh Cramer of Iowa City, Iowa-based Cramer Dev

“We’re young and we don’t know everything,” Jason Nelson, HLT’s director of public relations, told Silicon Prairie News. “Our investors have obviously been successful in the past and that can only help us be successful in the future.”

The startup—co-founded by University of Iowa alumni Alec Whitters, Adam Keune and Ben O’Connorlaunched its first product in November 2012. Now HLT has students in all 50 states and more than 170 countries using its mobile apps to study for licensure exams and other high-level tests.

For a startup that focuses on test-prep products, Ferguson seems a logical choice not only as an investor but also as a member of HLT’s advisory board.

“Most of our investors are people who can not only help us, but give us the advice we need to take the company forward,” Nelson said.

Ferguson—who now works with Academic Partnerships, a Dallas-based company that works with universities to increase the use of educational technologies to spread knowledge—agrees that teaming up with the startup made sense for a number of reasons.

“I met with the young men behind the company and was impressed by their energy level and ability to put forward some really great ideas,” Ferguson told Silicon Prairie News. “From my perspective, I happen to believe that I could be very helpful to them having been in that industry and in that area with ACT for a very, very long time.

“They’ve been hugely receptive to the advice that I’ve had to offer so far.”

Ferguson also adds that while education has been a career focus of his, the success of the area’s startup community also is a motivating factor behind his involvement with HLT. 

“Being an Iowa Citian for the last four decades myself, I’m very interested in seeing the local startups given support and have the opportunity to succeed,” he said.

In addition to becoming an investor, Cramer—who also invested in Iowa City startup ClusterFlunk—will join the team as HLT’s CTO. Murray Indick, senior counsel at San Francisco-based Crowell & Moring, will sit on HLT’s advisory board and serve as the company’s legal counsel. 

Other investors in HLT’s seed round include Joseph Whitters of Frazier Health Care; Adam Ingersoll, founder and principal of Compass Education Group; Ravi Patel, president of Hawkeye Hotels; and education publishing company Kendall Hunt.

The startup had not formerly raised capital previously, but in July, was awarded $100,000 from the Iowa Demonstration Fund to help build its software infrastructure and expand into new markets. 

24 new apps by the end of 2014

Along with its other products, NCLEX Mastery, one of HLT’s first apps (pictured above), received a redesign.

Just as the startup closes its round, HLT has seen a major spike in revenue and downloads due to, Nelson says, a redesign to its products and website. 

“It’s been kind of crazy the past week and a half,” he said. “It’s just been insane how we’ve seen sales taking off.”

In the last few weeks, HLT’s nursing app, NCLEX PN Mastery, climbed to No. 4 in the Apple App Store’s list of top grossing educational apps.  

In October, the startup released two new appsNCLEX PN Mastery and Dental Boards Mastery: NBDE 2—bringing its total number of products to five. With four of its products now ranked in the top 100 grossing educational apps, HLT’s iOS and Android apps have seen more than 250,000 downloads.

Now Nelson says the round will be used to expand HLT’s operations and product line, with the goal of launching 24 new apps by the end of this year. The startup has an internal goal of releasing a new application every 2.5 weeks, Nelson says. 

While the startup plans to continue creating study tools for licensure exams and other graduate level tests—like one for the CEPA exam that is currently in the works—Nelson says that by the end of the year HLT is looking to expand into the high school market. 

“We want to change studying for everybody, not just for certain niche groups,” Nelson said.


Credits: SP Awards photo by Anna Johnson. Product images from Apple App Store


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