Coursekit, a graduate of TechStars NY which bills itself as an academic social network, has raised $5 million in a Series A round of venture capital financing. Led by the Social+Capital Partnership, a new Silicon Valley venture firm started by former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, the round includes existing investors IA Ventures and new angel investors Joel Spolsky, the CEO of StackExchange, and Michael Kearns, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Ted Maidenberg, a partner at Social+Capital and a former board member at LivingSocial, has joined Coursekit’s board.
The startup, founded by Wharton dropout Jospeh Cohen, hopes to take on the billion dollar incumbent, Blackboard, by selling direct to professors and bypassing the red tape and slow sales cycle of academic IT departments. Blackboard rakes in $400 million of the $500 million spent on this type of software per year, Mr. Cohen said, but Coursekit isn’t interested in that money. “Our business model is not to compete with Blackboard by selling software,” Mr. Cohen told Betabeat. “It’s to create large audiences of students and teachers that we can then leverage for all sorts of things.”
By borrowing from the conventions of today’s social networks, Coursekit hopes to create an environment that will get students excited to share materials. “It’s mostly a question of how students interact with each other. That is pretty much everything for a class. For that, Coursekit is really helpful,” said Sharka Hyland, a professor at UPenn. “I have no problem talking to my students, but it’s so much more difficult to have them engage with each other. I think Coursekit is really good for that because in class I can force them to talk to each other, but it comes naturally when they use the software.”