Social network for education Edmodo buys Root-1 to expand its app market for teachers

In its first acquisition since launching in 2008, education social network Edmodo has purchased Root-1, a Palo Alto-based maker of education apps. The social education startup said Tuesday that Root-1’s six-person team would join Edmodo’s San Mateo, Calif. office to help it expand the app platform it launched last March.

In the last year, Edmodo’s platform has grown to support more than 400 apps from third-party developers, it said. The company, which gives teachers and students a secure online hub for communicating and collaborating, also said its user base has more than tripled to 18 million.

Edmodo did not share details on the deal but said Root-1 co-founder and early Google employee Vibhu Mittal will head up research and development, co-founders Manish Kothari and Ketan Kothari (former co-founders of AlphaSmart) would assume key positions in platform strategy and growth and co-founder Adam Stepinski (who, incidentally, was Mittal’s intern at Google) will join the company’s platform engineering team in a key role.

With the acquisition, Edmodo not only adds the expertise of Root-1’s team but its five apps, including OpenMinds, which lets teachers and developers customize education apps. That app is particularly interesting as it enables teachers to not just curate apps but play a bigger role in creating digital educational experiences for their students.

“The key focus is how do we continue to drive a deeper integration of high-quality learning experiences. Teachers are the ones at the center of what their students need to learn and giving them more control and choice is what we strive to do,” said Crystal Hutter, Edmodo’s COO. “[The acquisition] is an extension of our commitment to our platform, our developers and our teachers.”

The purchase emphasizes Edmodo’s goal of being a distribution channel for classroom content — not only an online communications site for teachers and students — and it highlights Edmodo’s hopes for becoming a growing influence in the maturing ed tech industry. As content goes digital and teachers are more able to pick and choose content from a variety of sources instead of just using a textbook, Edmodo aims to be an underlying platform. Although further monetization plans are no doubt on the horizon, Edmodo supports both free and paid apps and takes a cut of the revenue from publishers.

The acquisition comes on the heels of a new big hire — last month it brought on board former Mozilla VP Damon Sicore to lead its engineering team and boost the company’s profile in the larger engineering community. To date, the company has raised $47.5 million from investors including New Enterprise Associates, Union Square Ventures and Learn Capital.