Sesame Ventures (Yeah, That Sesame) Wants To Make Technology More Accessible

The Count would be thrilled by the number of dollars invested

Sesame Workshop has a VC arm. Sesame Street
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

There are not one but two letters of the day at nonprofit Sesame Workshop’s New York headquarters today: V and C.

That’s because its venture arm, Sesame Ventures, has invested in Kano, a London-based startup that seeks to make technology as simple and fun to create as it is to consume.

In a statement, Kano called the investment an extension of its $28 million Series B funding, which it announced in November 2017, but it did not specify how much Sesame Ventures contributed.

A rep for Sesame Ventures was not available to comment by deadline.

The release said the Series B funding helped Kano expand to North America, and the more recent investment will “explore future collaboration opportunities” focused on parents, kids and technology interaction “from the very early stages of life.”

However, Kano chief executive Alex Klein told CNBC the funding would also help Kano expand into new technology like blockchain and potentially even how users can build their own internets (Ahem.)

In the statement, Klein said, “Educational computing for kids is an emerging field and with the investment and confidence of Sesame Ventures … Kano will have the opportunity to define a new developmental framework—coupled with an ecosystem of media and products that will help kids ‘level up’ as they grow older.”

In a similar statement, Tanya Haider, executive vice president for strategy, research and ventures at Sesame Workshop, said they will “explore the creation of products, content and research that positively impact the way parents and children approach and learn about technology.”

Sesame Workshop is, of course, the organization behind Sesame Street, the beloved children’s TV show that debuted in 1969 and has introduced generations of children to the alphabet and counting along with characters like Big Bird, Grover and Cookie Monster. It now reaches millions of children in more than 150 countries. Sesame Workshop says its curriculum addresses children’s developmental needs, and its programs deliver lessons about health, emotional well-being, and respect and understanding, addressing topics like death, financial empowerment, obesity and HIV.

Sesame Workshop said Sesame Ventures helps entrepreneurs whose work aligns with its mission. In addition to capital, Sesame Workshop said portfolio companies gain access to its expertise in early childhood development, research, kid-centric design thinking and whole-child curriculum.

Its first fund, Collab+Sesame, operates in partnership with early-stage investment firm Collaborative Fund. According to a 2016 blog post, Collab+Sesame planned to invest up to $1 million in each startup. Collab+Sesame has also invested in tutoring app Yup.

Kano said its computing platform lets users build real devices, learn how they work, code them and share their creations. And this is real-life coding: Kano said users go from block-based to text coding, including Python, JavaScript and Unix commands, and even into collaborative coding on its community platform.

Despite Sesame Ventures’ focus on children, Kano’s premise is to enable anyone to make a computer and to help boost the number of people worldwide who can code, which stands at around 50 million today, Klein said.

The oldest person to use a Kano kit was 87. And while young children can certainly play with Kano kits, they have to be able to read and write to get the most out of the experience, Klein added. However, Kano has had “significant success” with kids because he said they are more naturally inclined to be curious about the world.

Kano said more than 250,000 devices have been used to create more than 52 million lines of code. Kano shipped its first computer and coding kit in September 2014.

Kano has raised $37 million to date, including $18 million in equity in the most recent round, as well as a $15-million Series A round in 2015 and a $4-million seed round in 2013.

Kano’s original Series B round was led by the Thames Trust and Breyer Capital. Index Ventures, the Stanford Engineering Venture Fund, LocalGlobe, Collaborative Fund, Triple Point Capital and Barclays also participated, along with Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and Kano chairman John Makinson.

@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.