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Education software giant acquires local startup

Mark Parker



Gary Hensley, president and CEO of Livingtree. Follett School Solutions recently acquired the educational fundraising company. Photo provided.

Illinois-based Follett School Solutions, the nation’s largest provider of K-12 educational software, recently acquired a Tampa serial entrepreneur’s academic fundraising platform.

Gary Hensley, CEO of Livingtree, told the Catalyst that Follett School Solutions’ officials sought to increase fundraising management efforts and bolster parent and community connections. Hensley and Livingtree’s employees will now join the 151-year-old edtech conglomerate.

Follet School Solutions’ acquisition of Livingtree – finalized in December for an undisclosed amount – marks Hensley’s third exit. He noted that his latest venture helped schools, teachers and educational stakeholders raise over $400 million.

“The fact that companies like Follett School Solutions are taking notice of our tech ecosystem should feel validating to the entire community,” Hensley said. “Needless to say, I am thrilled to be working with Follett School Solutions’ CEO, Chris Porter, and the entire team to provide more opportunities for educators and families to collaborate through fundraising.”

In a Jan. 23 announcement, Porter noted that raising money for vital projects is often challenging for educators. Many pay out of pocket for school supplies.

What was known as Livingtree Give will become the Follett Destiny Fundraising Manager. Porter called it a “world-class” solution that increases fundraising efficiencies and effectiveness.

In addition to simplifying processes, the centralized platform increases transparency by tracking every dollar donated. Hensley said the acquisition would enhance accessibility and significantly expand the software’s reach to more schools and districts.

“We are excited about the platform’s continuous growth,” he said. “And we will allocate resources to fulfill our mission of making fundraising more accessible and efficient for everyone involved.”

Hensley, a member of Tampa’s Embarc Collective startup incubator, has a long history of success with edtech companies. In 2006, he founded Intagrade, an academic software analytics platform, and sold the company to Pearson – an educational publishing conglomerate – three years later.

Hensley worked with Pearson until he launched his second venture, Edbacker, in 2014. Livingtree acquired Edbacker in January 2018, and its governing board appointed Hensley as the company’s new CEO and president.

He will now serve as vice president of business development for Follett School Solutions’ mergers and acquisitions team. “I will also contribute personally to the Tampa Bay (tech) ecosystem and startup community,” Hensley added.

The serial entrepreneur did not announce plans to launch another company. He said his focus “right now” is expanding Follett Destiny Fundraising Manager and supporting K-12 educators.

Originally founded in 1873, Follett School Solutions now serves over 45 million global students. The company offers print and digital educational materials and customizable tools for teachers and librarians.

Follett School Solutions has evolved alongside new technology and now provides software that helps school administrators track investments, maximize resources and analyze student data.

Hensley moved to Tampa in 2019 and said he immediately sought to connect with the local startup ecosystem. He credited Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective, and Allie Felix, the nonprofit’s platform vice president, for welcoming him into the region’s “vibrant” tech community.

“I can confidently say that the power of community and collaboration within this entrepreneurial landscape is truly remarkable,” Hensley said. “The support and camaraderie I have experienced in Tampa have been unparalleled.”


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