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Unlocking Student Potential with On-Demand Academic Support: Why We’re Proud to Partner with Paper

Unlocking Student Potential with On-Demand Academic Support: Why We’re Proud to Partner with Paper
Investment / February 15, 2022
Written by Rajeev Dham Paul Levine Jane Lee
Paper CEO Phil Cutler,

CEO, Paper

“From my very first conversation with Rajeev, I knew he would be a great partner for Paper. It was clear that he understood the opportunity in front of Paper to truly transform our schools. Each time we spoke, he continued to emphasize the need to stay focused on the students and make sure they are increasingly engaging and recognizing value. As a former teacher, hearing that type of conviction made it evident that Rajeev and the whole Sapphire team were behind our mission.” 

If you think back to your school days, you may remember those students in class who always raised their hands and had the right answer. While hard work was certainly involved, some of those students likely benefited from extra support received outside of the classroom—support like private tutoring, or even simply a parent’s involvement in homework. Unfortunately, though, those resources were only available to students whose families could provide this assistance.

In the public school system, there has always been inequality in access to extracurricular academic support. Recently, however, COVID-19 made the problem go from bad to worse, and shed additional light on the issue. The abrupt, unexpected and prolonged shift to remote education has resulted in unfinished learning, with many students exhibiting a decline in academic performance and disengagement from school. And while many students are now back in the classroom, structural barriers continue to prevent parity in academic success.

That’s why we at Sapphire are excited to back Founder & CEO Phil Cutler, and the entire team at Paper, to lead their $270M Series D. Paper’s educational support system enables school districts to offer their students 24/7 online access to a vetted network of tutors through a chat-based interface. With Paper, K-12 students can get support wherever and whenever they need it, regardless of their financial means.

A Turning Point in the Massive EdTech Market

With over 50 million K-12 students enrolled in the U.S. public school system, the education sector is notably large and ripe for innovation. Estimates indicate that in 2020, U.S. K-12 EdTech spend was $35.8 billion—up 27% from the prior year.

The pandemic accelerated digital transformation within secondary education, with federal funding broadening access to critical learn-from-home resources such as internet connectivity and Chromebooks. In fact, survey data indicates that 90% of middle and high school educators report that their students are now mapped 1:1 with their own learning device—up from only ~65% pre-pandemic.

In parallel with this secular shift towards tech-enabled learning, tutoring continues to be a powerful tool to academically bring out the best in students. However, current tutoring models are a combination of expensive (e.g., private sessions), inefficient (e.g., scheduling and staffing problems can prevent help from being available when students are ready to access it) and inequitable (e.g., academic support that only certain students can afford). This is exactly where Paper comes in.

Empowering Students, Teachers and School Districts to Succeed

While many school districts — including some of the nation’s largest such as Boston Public Schools, Atlanta Public Schools and Hillsborough County Public Schools — have adopted Paper as a tool to address student unfinished learning and inequity during the pandemic, Paper’s usage is not a learn-from-home phenomenon. The platform is an outstanding solution for three critical stakeholders: students, teachers, and school districts.

Paper provides students unlimited, 24/7 real-time academic support at no cost to them or their families. Whether a student is struggling with math homework or could use a second pair of eyes to review an essay, Paper supports every type of learner—from the high achiever who wants to challenge herself with additional practice, to the student seeking homework help while manning his parents’ storefront. When a student logs into Paper and requests help with a certain subject, Paper’s matching algorithm quickly and intelligently connects the student with a tutor who guides them to understanding using the Socratic teaching method—emphasizing two-way communication to spark critical thought and ultimately, deeper learning—rather than just “giving away the answer.”

For teachers, Paper saves time and supercharges productivity, preventing educator burnout. Instead of fielding additional questions from students for hours after the school day ends, teachers can direct students to Paper’s platform for around-the-clock support. Teachers can even leverage Paper during in-classroom working sessions, enabling the teacher to focus on helping a small subset of the class while Paper tutors support the remainder.

School districts benefit from Paper because it provides strategic value in creating a more equitable learning environment. With contracted per-student per-year pricing, Paper’s solution gives school districts predictability for budget planning at a price point below that of other solutions. Given that the academic performance of students is an important factor in determining a school’s funding, Paper and its customers are jointly aligned in creating exceptional educational outcomes.

A Mission-Driven Founder Democratizing Academic Support

Paper Founders

Phil Cutler, Paper’s CEO and Founder, started the company based on his experience as a school teacher, motivated by witnessing the disparities in access to private tutoring among students in his own classroom. From our first meeting with Phil and his team, we immediately appreciated their burning passion to democratize educational support. Furthermore, we share their bold vision for Paper’s potential to revolutionize access to and delivery of a suite of other extracurricular resources—such as guidance counseling, college application preparation and more—for students everywhere.

Sapphire invests in companies of consequence—and we are especially proud to back ones like Paper that are motivated to create a positive impact on society. With this new investment, we are excited to support Paper’s mission of empowering every student with academic support to reach their full potential.

Disclaimer: Nothing presented within this article is intended to constitute investment advice, and under no circumstances should any information provided herein be used or considered as an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy an interest in any investment fund managed by Sapphire Ventures (“Sapphire”). Information provided reflects Sapphires’ views as of a time, whereby such views are subject to change at any point and Sapphire shall not be obligated to provide notice of any change. Companies mentioned in this article are a representative sample of portfolio companies in which Sapphire has invested in which the author believes such companies fit the objective criteria stated in commentary, which do not reflect all investments made by Sapphire. A complete alphabetical list of Sapphire’s investments made by its direct growth and sports investing strategies is available here. No assumptions should be made that investments listed above were or will be profitable. Due to various risks and uncertainties, actual events, results or the actual experience may differ materially from those reflected or contemplated in these statements. Nothing contained in this article may be relied upon as a guarantee or assurance as to the future success of any particular company. Past performance is not indicative of future results.