PlaBook, a Kansas City-based education technology company, has recently announced that it has raised $100,000 in funding from Google.
Founded by Philip Hickman, PlaBook is an innovative reading technology that uses artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and speech recognition to help children learn to read. The startup, a Techstars 2021 backed company, is the first AI-powered digital avatar reading assistant. The platform automates reading assessments such as oral reading fluency, dyslexia screening, running records, comprehension, and phonemic awareness.
Plabook provides a high-quality reading practice that fuels growth, reading quizzes monitor comprehension, while literacy skills and vocabulary quizzes extend student learning and build skills mastery. It also offers AI powered dashboards that generate smart insights for teachers, parents, and students.
Commenting on the funding, Founder of Plabook, Philip Hickman, said:
"We were happy to receive an investment from Google. It’s a stamp of approval to really validate our tool. We’ve won other awards like (being a semifinalist at the GSV Cup). But this was a validation. This was Google."
Hickman further added about the company, saying:
"So it was a little bit more difficult to develop our proprietary technology around that because children’s voices change so fast. One minute, they’re squeaking. One minute, they’re dropping and getting deep and cracking. Then the next minute, they have front teeth, and the next second, they don’t have front teeth. Without such technology, reading assessments are done by having a child read a paragraph and answer some multiple choice questions. Or younger children might be asked to do tasks like, for example, dragging and dropping a picture of an apple under the letter A."
"For the first time, we’re not only able to hear a child read, (but) use AI to analyze their readings and tell you exactly reading level error, accuracy, oral reading proficiency — all those things — comprehension. But we’re also able to hear all the way down to the phonemic level — we’re holding some patents around that — to where we’re able to hear the very unit of speech. … We’re able to give them a profile of the student recommendation engine to be able to tell you exactly what barriers that the child has", he noted.
Plabook is on a mission to help kids grow their love for learning so that they can build a brighter future.
According to Hickman, when creating its products, the company didn’t use a third party tool but developed its own speech engine. Unlike Google’s speech engine, which uses an adult data set, PlaBook employs a child speech data set, plus it takes into account accents and regional dialects. The technology is designed to work with teachers, and be an informative assessment that still functions in a noisy classroom environment.
Plabook is now being used in the Florissant and Ferguson, Missouri, school districts in the St. Louis area, plus in schools in Texas, Mississippi, Michigan, and New York. The firm is also exploring partnerships with a couple of Kansas City area schools.
Last year in October, Plabook had raised $50,000 in funding from Arch Grants. Prior to that, the company had raised an undisclosed amount in a pre-Seed round from Arch Grants and Techstars Kansas City Accelerator in June in the same year.