A SOFTWARE company that develops tools to prevent bullying in schools has been taken over by its founder in a £10m deal.
Jon Valentine, 33, who started Impero in 2002, has bought out his two business partners in a deal backed by the investment firm Connection Capital.
Impero is a fast-growing technology company that has created a suite of online tools to help teachers keep tabs on pupils in the classroom. It monitors students’ online activities for signs of bullying and self-harm, and analyses slang in emails and internet messages, to spot teenagers who may be about to go off the rails.
“As a student is typing an email, our software will take a screen shot and tell the teacher what it means and what action to take,” said Valentine, who wrote his first computer code on a ZX Spectrum at the age of eight. The Impero technology keeps a dictionary of slang words and acronyms that would be unfamiliar to teachers but could signify that a student was being bullied or groomed by a sexual predator. Examples include “dirl”, which stands for “die in real life”, or “gnoc”, “get naked on camera”.
Based in Loughborough, Leicestershire, the company has sold its software to 1,300 British secondary schools, or about a third of the market, said Valentine.
The entrepreneur, who set up Impero while working as an education IT consultant, will use some of the Connection Capital cash to accelerate expansion into America.
Revenues are expected to hit £7.5m this year, compared with £400,000 in 2011, and Valentine is aiming to generate annual profits of £25m within a few years.
Technology could upend centuries of traditional teaching methods in schools, attracting legions of investors, such as Connection. Education start-ups raised $500m (£300m) in the first quarter of the year. Most tech firms in the sector have focused on developing tailored learning aids.