In hit-driven mobile apps biz, kid-focused Fingerprint spreads risk with platform for developers, brands

Millions of parents and students may be familiar with the apps created by educational companies like Duck Duck Moose and Mindsnacks. But for every Apple App Store hit (s AAPL), there are plenty of other quality apps that don’t gain traction because they’re just too hard to find.

Instead of pouring all of its resources into apps of its own and hoping for a few big winners, San Francisco-based mobile edutainment startup Fingerprint Digital is taking another tack: building a platform to create a network of apps created by a range of developers and partnering with big educational and media companies to enable them to create app networks of their own.

Last month, it announced a partnership with Malaysian media company Astro Digital 5. On Thursday, the startup said it had struck a deal with veteran education company Sylvan Learning to co-develop a network of mobile apps based on Sylvan’s instructional content and Fingerprints games and features.

Offering developers another avenue for discovery

Launched in 2011, the company offers (free and paid) educational and gaming apps for elementary age kids that cover everything from spelling and languages to the Egyptians and Middle Ages. Each app offers parents a window into what their kids are learning and they let kids message each other, play one another and recommend other apps to each other.

fingerprint platformCo-founder and CEO Nancy MacIntyre, who was formerly an executive with Leapfrog, said one quarter of the 50 apps on their platform are created in house. But the remainder comes from developers around the world.

“My philosophy is I’m going to source the best-quality kids’ content and not have to be in the hit-driven business,” she said. “I’d rather be in the business where I’m partnering with the best content out there and spreading the risk around.”

For developers, she said, the model provides another avenue for discovery, which is becoming more important as the App Store gets more crowded. And, for consumers, it offers exposure to a wide but curated set of apps that can be matched to kids’ learning levels.

Looking to the enterprise for distribution

While other educational mobile app companies tend to focus on targeting consumers or schools, Fingerprint sees a bigger opportunity in licensing its platform to brands and subscriber networks and enabling them to build their own networks of mobile apps. MacIntyre declined to name names, but said the company is currently in talks with several other potential enterprise partners, many of which are in Asia.

fingerprint parentsGiven growing competition in the booming kids’ app industry (the Association for Competitive Technology has said about 48,000 developers are focused on the field in some way), it makes sense that Fingerprint is looking to enterprise partners for distribution.  But, as it grows, it will have to keep its branded networks different enough to avoid competition among its partners. MacIntyre said she envisions natural segmentation around age, verticals, markets and geography.

She also said the company’s original, standalone network, Fingerprint Play, isn’t going to go anywhere, but is now more of a testing ground for new apps and features and a way to learn the market. The startup didn’t disclose the total number of users or downloads, but said the user base on Fingerprint Play has increased eight-fold since the beginning of the year and that users now play 10 times the number of sessions they played last January.

Disclosure: Reed Elsevier Ventures, which is an investor in Fingerprint, is also an investor in the parent company of Gigaom.