The Download: Blackboard makes first acquisition under CEO Jay Bhatt

District-based Blackboard scooped up a 20-person online education start-up for an undisclosed sum this week, the first acquisition since Jay Bhatt took over as chief executive a year ago.

The purchase of Austin-based MyEdu marks a shift for Blackboard toward software built specifically for students, a population that Bhatt said is increasingly influential when it comes to the technology colleges buy.

Founded in 2010, MyEdu allows students to create online profiles where they can map out courses to find the quickest road to graduation. It also allows students to share the skills they take away from each class, effectively building resumes that employers can peruse when searching for new hires.

“Lots of businesses, Blackboard included frankly, look at the student population and say we have jobs that are targeted at qualified people,” Bhatt said in an interview. “We just can’t tell if the students coming out are qualified.

Students have an opportunity to use the application to tell the would what they learned, Bhatt said.

“What have they mastered in school in terms of technical or IT competencies? What components of the class do they believe are particularly useful in employment settings?” he said.

The acquisition provides insight into Blackboard’s growth strategy, which has become more opaque since the firm was acquired for $1.64 billion by the investment firm Providence Equity Partners in 2011.

Blackboard sells its legacy learning management system to university administrations with the pitch that it allows for greater collaboration between faculty and students. But the technology has been criticized by some for not being as user friendly as other consumer technologies on the market.

Bhatt said Blackboard aims to integrate MyEdu into the existing software it sells to universities, which could greatly expand MyEdu’s user base beyond the 1 million students currently on the platform.

It also won’t be the last acquisition for Blackboard, Bhatt said. Even before his tenure, Blackboard expanded its business by acquiring competitors and promising new technologies, alike. That strategy will continue, along with a greater emphasis on internal innovation, Bhatt said.

Venga collects $1M

Venga, the District-based software maker that allows restaurants to track patrons’ dining habits, has added $1 million in venture capital to its coffers.

Leesburg-based Militello Capital led the round. Other contributors include Cornell University’s Big Red Ventures, Anton Airfood founders Bill and Pat Anton, Passion Food Hospitality owner Gus DiMillo, Think Food Group and Jodie McLean, president and chief investment officer at Edens.

“It’s a very strategic round,” co-founder Winston Bao Lord said. “For most companies, ideally you’re looking for people that can add value besides just their money.”

The latest influx of capital — Venga previously raised $650,000 from friends and family — will be used to refine the upstart’s patent-pending technology and bulk up its sales staff.

The company targets restaurant chains and groups with at least three locations, and to date its software is used in roughly 200 establishments in Washington, New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Lord said.

“The goal with this was to raise enough capital so we could get to cash flow positive,” Lord said. “That’s the plan.”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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