Three Penn students will put their schooling on hold to launch their course-management system startup, Coursekit.
Coursekit — which hopes to replace Blackboard, the market leader in online course management currently used by several of Penn’s schools — was designed using a concept similar to that of social networking sites. It will offer a calendar, places for professors to post syllabi and resources and a “class wall” where students and professors can interact and host discussions. The site is scheduled to launch on August 1.
CEO and co-founder Joseph Cohen, who completed his sophomore year as a Wharton undergraduate in May, sees importance in acting on this opportunity immediately.
“We’re on to something worth pursuing,” he said. “We can really change what education looks like in this country.”
The company recently raised $1 million in seed funding from Founder Collective, IA Ventures and Shasta Ventures, venture capital firms that invest money in rising startups.
Dan Getelman, who completed his junior year as a Wharton and Engineering undergraduate and is a former Daily Pennsylvanian lead online developer, and Jim Grandpre, who completed his sophomore year as an Engineering undergraduate, collaborate on the entrepreneurial and programming aspects of the company with Cohen.
The team has based its company in New York. “New York has an amazingly exciting and energetic early-stage tech scene right now,” Cohen said. “It makes sense to build a tech business here.”
From New York, the trio will be expanding their product and “showing teachers why this is the greatest thing that ever happened to them,” Cohen said.
Coursekit has received hundreds of requests from professors around the world, according to Cohen. The software was piloted last spring in a Penn typography class taught by Fine Arts professor Sharka Hyland.
Hyland, who was frustrated with Blackboard, found Coursekit to be a good alternative because it “encouraged students to communicate with each other outside of class time.” She will continue to use the software and recommends it to other professors.
Coursekit won the Wharton Venture Award in May, which awarded the team $10,000. The company is also a member of the Wharton Venture Initiation Program, which helps students implement business ideas and receive advising from professionals in the field.
“We are very pleased with the progress Coursekit has made,” Emily Cieri, managing director of the Wharton Entrepreneurial Program, wrote in an email. “I know the team has worked very hard during the school year to integrate the product into selected classes.”
Penn “helped us out tremendously,” Cohen said. “Most of our investors came from people who went to Penn or connections through Penn alumni.”
Although they have dropped out of Penn to work on their company, the founders do anticipate returning to school in the future.
“School’s very important, but it’ll always be there,” Getelman said. “There’s a great opportunity for Coursekit right now.”
Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs, however, does not encourage students to leave school to pursue their ventures, according to Cieri.
Wharton will continue to support the trio by keeping in regular contact.
“We have seen that a strong relationship can support their return to Wharton to complete their degrees,” Cieri wrote.
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