Memrise raises $1.05M to make memorization a game

Memrise, a TechStars Boston graduate, caught my eye last year at its demo day with its gamified approach to learning and memorizing languages. I wasn’t the only one impressed. The company has raised $1.05 million from Avalon Ventures, Balderton Capital, Matt Mullenweg’s Audrey Capital and Lerer Ventures. Nabeel Hyatt, who sold Conduit Labs to Zynga (s znga) and recently joined Spark Capital as a partner, also invested along with Jeff Hammerbacher, former head of data at Facebook, and Bill Warner, founder of Avid.

London-based Memrise has a cool take on learning and memorization, combining vivid encoding techniques such as visual tools and mnemonic devices with the kind of game mechanics you might find in a Zynga game. The company can take a word in a foreign language and create an animated cartoon or a “mem” around it, giving a user a visual way to remember that particular word. It then schedules reminders and tests of mems to ensure they stick in a user’s long-term memory.

The goal is to move a new word from a greenhouse for short term memory into a long-term memory garden. Memrise will take into account the difficulty of particular words and tailor tests for users that ensure it doesn’t die. Ultimately, it’s supposed to make learning fun, like a recreational activity.

“We found game dynamics are useful to allow people to relate emotionally to memories. That’s not easy because memories are organic beasts that fade,” said memory grandmaster Ed Cooke, who founded Memrise with Greg Detre, a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Princeton.

Memrise fully supports six languages: French, Spanish, German, SAT Vocabulary, Mandarin and Italian, with more than 2,000 full audio and mnemonics-enabled mems. But its user community has added another 1 million words. Memrise is looking to expand beyond languages to anything factual and recently began a partnership with the Guardian newspaper in the UK, teaching readers about things like cheeses, herbs, plants and animals.

Cooke said the company is poised to release mobile apps in the next few months. Memrise is looking at making money through a premium model for the mobile apps, which could have extra features available through a subscription, he said. Further down the road, the company is looking to relocate to San Francisco or New York.