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Edtech startup Workbench raises $1.7 million

Workbench founder Chris Sleat, left, speaks during the company’s Project Based Learning Summit, a two-day education and technology event for educators.
Workbench founder Chris Sleat, left, speaks during the company’s Project Based Learning Summit, a two-day education and technology event for educators. (Mary Parrish/Workbench)

Workbench, a Baltimore education technology startup, has raised $1.7 million to expand sales and marketing outreach for its hands-on learning tools.

The investment is part of a $2 million funding round led by Brown Advisory that the company expects to close soon. The new money will bring Workbench's total funding to $5 million.

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The company was founded in 2013 by CEO Christopher Sleat as cwist and rebranded as Workbench last year.

Sleat said the idea for the company came from observing the type of lessons his own children, now 11 and 14, were receiving at school.

"I wanted to see them doing more experimental learning," Sleat said.

Teachers can use Workbench's technology platform to develop hands-on lessons that teach subjects such as math in an interactive way.

For example, students could learn about fractions and multiplication by programming a robot and measuring whether he moves twice as far or half the distance. Making a recipe book could teach students about measurement conversions.

Sleat said the program is used in 10,000 schools around the world.

Brown Advisory, which has offices in Baltimore, was attracted to Workbench because of the company's fast growth and promising software platform, said Keith Stone, a private equity analyst with the firm.

"We were just really impressed with how quickly they were able to sign schools up," Stone said. "We were just excited by the progress they were making."

The new funding will allow the company to further expand its reach, Sleat said.

"The message of the product is very solid," Sleat said. "Now we need to tell the story more.

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Workbench employs 14 people at its office in City Garage. The company expects to add four more workers by the end of the year and could hire another six next year, once it raises another, larger funding round, Sleat said.

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