School friends’ love of coding makes them millionaires

Edtech start-up Robotify matured from firm founded by teenagers to near-€20m takeout target

The founders of Irish education technology start-up Robotify will share up to €10 million from the sale of the company they started as school students to Imagine Learning.

Dubliners Adam Dalton and Evan Darcy, who are both 23 years old, founded Robotify in 2015 with €3,000 in savings , while still at school. It was acquired by Imagine Learning earlier this week in a deal valued at close to €20 million.

Documents filed with the Companies Registration Office indicate that Mr Dalton and Mr Darcy each owned a quarter of the business prior to the sale. Sláinte Healthcare founder Andrew Murphy, Robotify's chairman, also owned a 25 per cent stake in the company. Other backers included Elkstone and Enterprise Ireland.

Robotify teaches students to code through the use of robots and simulation. The company recently made headlines globally when it signed a deal with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s Woz Ed firm to bring access to cutting-edge robotics technology to students around the world using its virtual robotics software.

In a tweet, Mr Dalton stressed that the sale had little to do with money and that the company was just getting started.

“It’s funny what you read in the headlines – you’d think we could sit back and retire with our billions . . . (We can’t!). For Evan and myself, it is just the beginning – now the real work truly begins,” Mr Dalton tweeted.

‘Two lads’

“We’re just two lads from Dublin working hard to change education for the better. And we are so excited to try to make that change with our incredible team and new colleagues,” he added.

As part of the Imagine Learning deal, the two men will remain with the business for at least the next two years.

Mr Dalton and Mr Darcy met as students at St Paul's College in Raheny. Inspired by their love of coding, they established Robotify by running a number of courses and summer camps teaching children the basics of coding and robotics.

Speaking to The Irish Times back in 2017, they explained that they first introduced robots into their coding classes because they saw how that increased their students’ attention

They teamed up originally with BT Young Scientist winner and Evervault founder Shane Curran while still teenagers after meeting him at the student enterprise awards and striking up a friendship.

The three went on to develop a DIY robotics kit called Robotify Alpha that could teach children from the age of eight upwards how distance sensors, motors and microcontrollers work; the basics in programming; and how to write their own code.

Hardware vs software

However, Mr Murphy, who they first encountered at a mentoring session, advised they stay away from hardware which was proving expensive to source. He suggested that instead of trying to sell €200 robots, Robotify should build software to control the robots remotely.

That subsequently became the model and the lack of costly hardware has proven an attractive feature in subsequent commercial deals. Among those was a contract with the European Space Agency.

Mr Dalton and Mr Darcy both later went on to study at Dublin City University, with Mr Dalton studying business and his co-founder engineering. Robotify is based at Talent Garden, which is located on the DCU Alpha campus.

Robotify raised €1 million from existing and new investors in March last year ahead of the programme’s launch on an online learning portal for US schools with access to millions of students.

It had raised €300,000 the previous year in its first external funding.

Mr Curran meanwhile has since gone on to found data security company Evervault, which has raised close to $20 million from some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, including Index Ventures, Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins.

The Robotify acquisition is the first announced by Imagine Learning since its recent rebranding from Weld North Education. Founded in Arizona in 2010, the group has made more than 15 investments in edtech companies. Other brands it owns include Edgenuity, LearnZillion, StudySync and Twig Education.

Overall, Imagine Learning serves more than 10 million students and partners with more than 7,500 school districts across the US.