San Diego-based edtech startup CourseKey has raised $5 million from venture capitalists to grow its software business for colleges, universities and other learning institutions.
The new Series A round was led by San Francisco-based Builders Venture Capitalist with participation from Entangled Ventures, Bisk Ventures, and Social Startups Limited Partners, along with contributions from existing investors Altman and Jacobs, among others.
Launched by a teenager named Luke Sophinos, now 24 years old, at San Diego State University, CourseKey enables institutions to improve compliance, efficiency, and retention by creating paper-free learning environments in brick-and-mortar classrooms, clinicals, labs, and externships.
Luke Sophinos, Founder and CEO of CourseKey. Image Source
CourseKey first made a simple software tool that allowed professors to take attendance without a manual roll call where students would log in online and enter a code displayed at the front of the classroom. CourseKey’s software then ensured the student was near the classroom using GPS and Wi-Fi recognition. The simple idea rocketed Sophinos into a bit of an entrepreneurial star in San Diego. He got the support of Qualcomm’s former CEO Paul Jacobs and former president Steve Altman, CourseKey’s first investors. Sophinos dropped out of school and was later chosen for a coveted fellowship program for college drop-outs created by Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Sophinos, who later returned to San Diego State University to graduate, said the fellowship gave him two useful years with access to Thiel’s network of scientists, entrepreneurs and investors.
Sophinos said the new round of funding brings CourseKey’s total investments to $9 million since the company’s inception in 2015. With the latest investment, the company now plans to build out its software into a more useful suite of tools for colleges, universities and other learning institutions.
CourseKey’s app now no longer just an attendance tool
CourseKey’s software is now more sophisticated than it once was. After students download the CourseKey app (as required by professors who use the technology), the software can pick up ultra-high frequency tones emitted by the professor’s computer to verify attendance. This method ensures students are within the four walls of a classroom, and not just nearby. It is said that CourseKey’s app can also be used for reading textbooks online, polling students’ mid-lesson, or conducting quizzes and tests.
While CourseKey's tools are handy for both teachers and students, the startup recently decided to take on a new set of customers - the academic institutions themselves. The company has developed a data analytics platform that gives institutions a real-time look at their customer (student) retention risks and offers up reports and insights on how to intervene. “If we can offer the institution real-time data, then they can see who is dropping off and intervene before it’s too late,” Sophinos said.
Meanwhile, CourseKey claims that its app is currently used at more than 80 locations and has roughly 100,000 paying users. It is reported that with the new round of funding, the startup has hired few additional employees and plans to add more in the coming months. The company currently has 22 employees at their headquarters in San Diego.