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Edtech startup Presence acquired by larger firm

Brian Hartz

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Reuben Pressman is founder and CEO of Presence. (Photo courtesy of City of St. Pete Flickr)

Modern Campus, the creator of a leading learner engagement platform, has been on an acquisition spree in 2021, and its latest asset grab is Presence, an edtech firm headquartered in St. Petersburg and led by Reuben Pressman, the city’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence.

Presence, according to a news release, helps universities improve retention rates by tracking and learning about their students’ involvement patterns and behaviors. Pressman, the company’s founder and CEO, will join the Modern Campus executive team. Presence’s 40 employees will become part of the Modern Campus staff.

“Learner engagement means everything to modern higher education institutions — because highly engaged learners graduate on time and are far more likely to view their post-secondary education as a lifelong partnership versus merely a two- or four-year transactional relationship,” said Modern Campus CEO Brian Kibby, who will remain in his role, in a prepared statement. “Not only does Presence offer the best student engagement platform, they’re also equally obsessed with customer success (they call it ‘happiness’), which makes them both a perfect product and cultural fit for Modern Campus.”

Pressman, speaking to the Catalyst, said he will continue to run Presence after it becomes fully integrated into Modern Campus, which has offices in Toronto and Camarillo, Calif.

“There’s no direct absorption,” he said of the deal. “[Presence] is definitely going to be its own product and platform. We’ll just be working better with the rest of Modern Campus — they’ll be adding more resources and investment and helping us continue to grow.”

In March, Modern Campus acquired interactive campus map and virtual tour provider nuCloud. It followed that up with the purchase earlier this month of Lakeland-based DIGARC, a provider of academic catalog and curriculum management services.

Pressman said the Modern Campus offer to buy Presence — which was founded in 2014 and now has 250 client institutions representing some 2 million students — didn’t come as a surprise. He’d received overtures from other companies and investment firms but turned them down, although he said he always thought an acquisition was a likely outcome.

“I was extremely passionate about building and solving these particular problems and challenges in higher ed and student affairs,” he said, “but the goal was to build something that could be a part of something bigger, take this path and grow even more. I liked the phase we’ve been through and I’m excited to go through the next phase … this is a very common and normal part of the life cycle for this kind of business.”

Pressman declined to disclose what Modern Campus paid for Presence, but he said the combined company will now have more than 1,200 customers. Other than that, he doesn’t expect much to change, at least in the short term.

“We like to say, ‘Nothing’s changing but everything’s changing,’” he said. “I’m staying; the team is staying; the product’s going to be the same. But we’re getting a bunch of investment and resources and everything from Modern. So there’ll be integration opportunities; we’ll have new leadership and people to help drive and make better decisions and allocate resources. And the product’s only going to get better. It’s a great opportunity for everyone involved.”

In December, Pressman spoke with the Catalyst about how he personally and professionally adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic. He and his team used the difficult situation as an opportunity to develop products and services geared toward virtual education, and they even created software that helped funnel millions of dollars of CARES Act funding to students in need.

“We’ve had some great success stories, especially with the virtual programs,” he said at the time.

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