Why Shaquille O’Neal Takes Edtech Startup Edsoma’s $2.5M Seed Round

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Adsoma, a startup that develops an AI-powered reading, learning and communication platform for children, has raised $2.5 million in a seed round led by Shaquille O’Neal. The trick? Founder and CEO Kyle Wallgren did not solicit money from the NBA superstar and philanthropist.

“He did not ask me for money; What he asked was ‘I want you to help me get this out,’” O’Neill said the moment he stepped off the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023.

Adsoma raised $2.5 million from more than a dozen individual investors — or family and friends, as Walgren calls it — at a post-funding valuation of $14 million. This is O’Neill’s first edtech investment. He did not disclose the amount.

O’Neal said Walgren understood his passion for helping children and the impact he had. But it was the production effort that convinced him.

“I didn’t believe it when he talked about it. And then when he showed me, I believed it, O’Neill said.

“I’ve learned that it’s better to show someone what you can do first and then put a value on it,” Wallgren agreed.

Adsoma is an app that uses an AI reading assistant to help people learn or improve their reading and communication. Available on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, the app has a free version that allows for one child user and up to three books. The monthly $9.99 version expands to four users, unlimited books, group video calling and peer reading sessions. The startup also offers an annual subscription for $99.99 that offers the same features as the monthly subscription.

Adsoma started with just 300 paid users, grew to 1,000 and had 9,000 users by the second month, Wallgren said.

And he’s already looking to scale up, raising a Series A and someday expanding into other languages. Walgren said he intends to raise a Series A round within two months and is targeting between $10 million and $15 million.

“What he (O’Neill) said at the end of the meeting was, ‘Do you think this might help us learn Spanish? And the data showed that we were downloaded in 11 countries,” Wallgren said. “So when we started looking into it, we thought, yes, this could be used as an ESL tool.”

Walgren added that Edsoma may eventually expand to teach reading in other languages, such as Spanish. For now, the company is targeting users in grades kindergarten through fourth grade based on today’s content. Walgren noted that Edsoma’s technology will work directly at the university and that it has ambitions to become the number one literacy resource in the United States.

“I think I think we can catch up to our competitors this year — I really believe,” Wallgren said. “And I think we can lead that space next year.”

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