China’s Tencent leads funding for US educational robot firm’s push into Asian markets

California-based Wonder Workshop sees growing demand for programmable robots in Asia’s classrooms as importance of science education grows

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 4:50pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 10:24pm

Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings has led a US$41 million funding round for US educational robot company Wonder Workshop, as the latter seeks to expand its presence in Asia amid growing demand for computer science education.

California-based Wonder Workshop makes a line of “CleverBots” – programmable robot toys that help students learn coding and robotics, aiming at a growing trend among schools to incorporate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education into curriculums.

Wonder Workshop’s US$150 Dash robot is among the bestselling toys in its category on Amazon’s online marketplace, and the company works with about one in five junior schools in the US. It also makes the Cue robot, aimed at children over the age of 11, as well as Dot, a stand-alone robot that can also serve as a companion for either Dash or Cue.

In Hong Kong its products can be found in 150 primary and secondary schools and it is working with Hong Kong investor MindWorks Ventures and education publishing company Classroom to increase its reach in the city.

“We believe that we also need to empower teachers to [provide STEM education], and so we spend a lot of time figuring out the right curriculum that can be used in schools,” said Brian Yang, head of Asia Pacific at Wonder Workshop, which also helps to train teachers to use its robots in the classroom.

Many of its investors are well placed to help Wonder Workshop expand in Asia – for example, Tencent is a major shareholder of e-commerce platform JD.com, meaning Wonder Workshop’s products could get a boost on the online retailer’s website.

Yang said that parents and schools in Asia are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of STEM education, and the company plans to use some of the new cash, from its latest series C round of funding, to expand its workforce in the region.

Other investors include China’s TAL Education Group, Softbank Korea, TCL Capital, Sinovation Ventures, VTRON Group, Madrona Venture Group, Bright Success, WI Harper and CRV.