Education

Social-learning platform Declara has one heck of a founding story — and $5M

Image Credit: mikecogh

Declara is the product of a lifetime of struggle and resilience.

The company launched its social learning platform today that combines collaboration, search, and data analytics to help organizations work effectively.

This isn’t just another productivity app.

Founder Ramona Pierson was a math prodigy and talented athlete who left high school to attend the University of California, Berkeley at the age of 16. As told to Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Ashlee Vance, she joined the Marine Corps at the age of 18 and worked on writing algorithms to find Russia’s nuclear silos and guide F-18 fighter missions.

Then she was hit by a car. Pierson’s legs were crushed, her throat and chest were ripped open, and she spent the next 18 months in a coma.

When Pierson finally woke up, she was unable to see.

“I learned to create a cognitive map of the world, sort of like The Matrix,” she told Vance. “I see the world in my head.”

This map was in many ways the basis for Declara.

Declara is a organizational social network that helps people communicate and be more productive within their organization. It combines multiple learning, knowledge management, content creation, collaboration, chat, search, and business intelligence systems onto one platform. The company told VentureBeat its analytics are based on “neuro-cognitive algorithmic models.” It aims to use data to better understand people and help those people improve how they work.

“Declara’s advanced analytics help us understand how people learn, what content they use or generate, and which peers and mentors help them the most,” Pierson said in an email. “The more the platform is used, the more it intuits and understands each individual’s intents and styles.”

The system analyzes the context around actions like comments, clicks, or shares and makes recommendations. It also tracks progress so organizations have a better sense of what is going on and why, and helps identify who the best people are for certain tasks.

Plenty of social enterprise products exist, such as Yammer and Jive, but Pierson described these as “first generation.”

“The problem with all these solutions is that they’re just ports of earlier technologies that were designed for connecting people, not making people smarter,” Pierson said. “Declara is built from the ground up with analytics at the core. Human connection — while certainly valuable within a business — is massively more valuable if you can analyze social interactions, understand/intuit the intent of these social interactions, and use the insights gained to make every member better armed to learn, grow, collaborate, and innovate.”

Declara basically acts like an organization’s digital brain.

Education is one of the first areas where Declara is making inroads because Pierson has extensive experience in the field. After she woke up from the coma, Pierson went through 100 surgeries and spent a long time in recovery. She later went back to school, ultimately receiving a masters degree in education from the University of San Francisco and then a PhD in neuroscience from Stanford University.

She started working for the U.S. Army and then the Department of Veterans Affairs to study how returned soldiers learned. She realized that most classrooms weren’t tracking students’ progress in a systematic way, and this made them less efficient and effective.

She went on to build The Source, a system that tracked student performance across multiple data points. Teachers and parents used it to monitor students and identify patterns. It also grew into a place for teachers to share learning material.

After The Source’s success, Pierson founded an education startup called SynapticMash — a learning management system (LMS) that captured data on students in an effort to improve outcomes.

It sold to Promethean World, where Pierson worked until last year when she began working on Declara.

Declara is now being used in Australia to help teachers implement a new national curriculum. In Latin America, it is used to help teachers, peer mentors, and students collaborate and learn at their own pace. In the U.S. a large pharmaceutical company is using the technology to connect its teams in offices around the country.

Organizations large and small struggle to keep their teams on the same page, productive, and organized, and none of the productivity solutions out there today seems up to the task. Declara could be that solution.

The company has already raised $5 million from Peter Thiel, Founders Fund, and Data Collective.

Read a more detailed report of Pierson’s story on Bloomberg.  

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