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CourseKey Raises $9M to Help Trade Schools

San Diego-based CourseKey, a trade school management SaaS startup, has raised $9 million in a Series B led after experiencing company growth and tripling its revenues last year.

SignalFire led the Series B round, bringing CourseKey’s total investments to roughly $20 million since the company’s inception in 2015. 

Luke Sophinos, founder and chief executive said the money will be used to add new features and capabilities as well as continue growing its headcount. 

Improving Graduation Rates

Founded in 2014 by Sophinos and Fadee Kannah, CourseKey was launched while undergraduate students at SDSU, with the goal of making it easier for students and professors to communicate.

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Today, CourseKey has grown into a B2B platform designed to work with organizations that teach some of our most essential workers including automotive mechanics, electricians, plumbers, and nurses, among others. 

“CourseKey is leading the digitization of trade schools by enabling them to take much of their curriculum online through our hybrid learning software,” said Sophinos. “Our goal is to help those organizations boost revenue by improving student retention and graduation rates.”

Adding that CourseKey also helps clients maintain regulatory compliance and generally streamline processes.

A privately held company, it works with more than 200 trade schools including Paul Mitchell and Unitek Learning. It has more than 200,000 paying users.

Working With Over 200 Trade Schools

In March 2020, CourseKey hit 30% of its annual customer acquisition due to the coronavirus lockdown, as more educational institutions across the country transitioned to a virtual environment. 

“Things really took off last year when the coronavirus hit,” said Sophinos. “Trade schools were required to adopt a digital arsenal due to COVID-19. We happened to be well position as we’ve been leading the digitization of the space for the last five years and, due to the virus, saw a massive acceleration of a trend we already knew would take place.”

Most recently, CourseKey has developed a data analytics platform. The company sees an opportunity to monetize student behavior data as a SaaS data analytics platform to give institutions a lens into retention risks and insights on potential interventions.

“We focused on automating daily classroom procedures like attendance and grading, enhancing the student experience through communication tools, helping to identify at-risk students, and simplifying compliance. We also visualized data for retention purposes,” he said.

Focused on Trade Schools

Looking forward, CourseKey’s next milestone is to scale the adoption of its platform to serve every trade school in the country. As of now, it employs 50 and plans to grow to over 100 over the next two years.

“This is a massive market and massive business opportunity,” said Sophinos. 

Sophinos dropped out of school and was later chosen to participate in a fellowship program by Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook, for two years, where he was able to access Thiel’s network to excel his company. He later returned to SDSU to finish his program.

CourseKey has an impressive list of investors including Steve Altman, former vice chairman and president of Qualcomm, who led its $3.5 million seed round, which also included participation from Larry Rosenberger, former FICO CEO. Dennis Yang, former CEO of edtech giant Udemy. 

In conjunction with the financing, Wayne Hu managing director at SignalFire, will take a seat on the startup’s board. 

“Student Information Systems and Learning Management Systems are optimized for traditional K-12 schools and university workflow, but vocational schools are stuck relying on pen and paper or trying to shoe-horn in solutions that aren’t built for them,” said Hu. “Not only does CourseKey improve trade school business KPIs, it serves as insurance against this existential risk.”

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