On average, students in the United States receive fewer than 10 hours of health education each year, much of it based on outdated information. Reva McPollom, founder and CEO of Lessonbee, is helping to reverse that trend. Her company’s digital learning platform delivers self-paced, interactive educational content inclusive of a diverse audience, with an updated curriculum that addresses issues ranging from vaping to racism to STIs and beyond. Large school districts have greenlighted Lessonbee’s curriculum, and the platform has thousands of active users. To continue to scale quickly, the company needed an infusion of capital. Enter Tidal River.
Like many entrepreneurs, Reva McPollom drew on personal experience to help shape the company she planned to build. “When I was a teen, I struggled to feel healthy in and out of school and continued to carry feelings of anxiety and constant striving into adulthood,” she said. “I realized I didn’t really know how to manage and nurture my health and that the same was true for everyone around me.” When McPollom decided to build a product-based business, she validated her idea with educators. “I asked [them] about the challenges they faced. Health education kept coming up. That’s when I got the idea for Lessonbee.”
McPollom is no EdTech newbie. Prior to founding Lessonbee in 2016, she built online corporate universities for global tech companies, including Razorfish and Liquidnet. That experience, along with her background in digital marketing, helped her build a business whose goal is to improve not only the quality, but also the quantity of health education taught in grades K–12. “U.S. students receive fewer than 10 hours of health education every year, far less than the 40–50 hours required to effect behavior change,” McPollom said. “These hours are not tracked or validated, and the instruction is not culturally responsive. Those are the problems we’re solving.” Lessonbee’s platform, which offers hundreds of self-guided, age-appropriate lessons designed to help teachers facilitate meaningful discussions, also enables schools and teachers to assign work, administer quizzes and track progress. And the lessons are designed to stick. They feature a cast of culturally relevant characters so they’re relatable to a diverse audience, and they’re interactive: texts and Instagram messages feature prominently to drive engagement.
McPollom has had considerable early success—in 2020, Chicago Public Schools, the third largest school district in the United States, approved Lessonbee’s curriculum for use—but there’s more to be done. “As we looked to scale our impact with partners including the New York City Department of Education Office of School Wellness Programs, we needed funding for R&D and capacity building,” McPollom said.
In 2021, Lessonbee received a $100,000 investment from a new “proof-of-concept” fund from Connecticut Innovations, the state of Connecticut’s venture capital arm, and CTNext, a quasi-state organization whose mission is to strengthen the state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Pauline Murphy, a senior managing director at Connecticut Innovations who helped manage the deal, introduced McPollom to Tidal River. “CI is proud to support Tidal River as it launches, especially because women are an important part of a successful startup ecosystem. I thought Lessonbee would be a great fit. EdTech is booming right now; it’s an area of focus for VCs due to COVID. Teachers today don’t have many resources to help students cope with mental health issues, and that’s a huge problem. Reva is doing something meaningful, something that’s really important to parents, students and teachers. We’re looking forward to much more from Lessonbee.”
“I was excited to invest for a variety of reasons,” said Galia Gichon, an angel investor and founding member of Tidal River. “Lessonbee is a promising EdTech company with an impressive female-led founder. It has proven traction and fulfills a much-needed void in our school system.”
McPollom will use the funding from Tidal River to conduct research and development and “build capacity,” including staff, content and the platform, which she’s integrating with various technologies that already exist in schools. She’s on a tremendous trajectory: “We’ve partnered with the New York City Department of Education Office of School Wellness Programs to provide mental health education for 1,100 secondary schools and up to 565,000 students. We’re launching similar programs in New Jersey and California and are among only a handful of vendors competing for curriculum adoption in Texas for grades 7 and 8. We are also entering into a contract with Chicago Public Schools, where our curriculum was approved in early 2020,” she said.
Murphy hinted at other major deals in the pipeline. “We’re looking for big announcements from Lessonbee in the coming months,” she said.
“Our inadequate health education system leads to loneliness, preventable diseases, mental health challenges and a strained healthcare system that consumes 17 percent of the nation’s GDP,” McPollom said. “These issues have a multi-billion-dollar impact on our economy.”
We’re glad she’s helping to solve them.