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Education testing company, venture fund back Tampa tech firm Knack

Margie Manning



Knack co-founders David Stoker, Shawn Doyle, Samyr Qureshi and Dennis Hansen (PHOTO CREDIT: Michelle Stoker Photography)

Knack, a Tampa educational technology company, won the Village Capital U.S. Education Program, a venture development program for a dozen U.S. education startups.

The prize is a $125,000 investment by venture capital fund VilCap Investments and Educational Testing Service, the Princeton, N.J. company that develops, administers and scores the SAT and more than two dozen other tests.

ETS also has become a strategic partner for Knack, said Samyr Qureshi, Knack co-founder and CEO.

Strategic partnerships are part of an evolving business strategy for Knack, with an app and technology to connect college students in tutoring and mentoring relationships. The company late last year began working with PwC, ConnectWise and other companies looking for talented workers, and with universities seeking to boost their performance metrics.

“Having ETS as a strategic partner and investor gives us a unique opportunity to collaborate on and tailor our assessment process to better represent how students are developing throughout their tutoring — ultimately driving more value to our community of university partners and corporate sponsors,” Qureshi said.

ETS is focused on bridging the gap between what employers want and what institutions are teaching, said Scott Weaver, ETS vice president and chief strategy officer.

“With Knack, we hope to be able to inform and boost students’ skills development along with positive academic and career outcomes,” Weaver said.

Knack won the investment after taking part in a four-month program described as a friendlier and more impactful version of TV game show competitions. The 12 startups in the program participated in workshops and met with mentors. The startups ranked each other and decided who among their peers would win the prize money.

It was the second big investment win for Knack in recent months. In November, the company closed a $1.5 million seed round co-led by Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner and Fenway Sports Group partner, alongside Charles Hudson’s seed fund, Precursor Ventures in San Francisco.

Village Capital, an entrepreneurial support organization, managed the venture development program, along with ETS, AT&T, BlackRock and Lumina Foundation. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Strada Education offered strategic advice and feedback to participating entrepreneurs.



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