Coursera Wins “Best New Startup Of 2012,” Get Schooled

It seems as if, in our particular slice of time, many spheres of industry are coming to a breaking point; Will we be focused on marginal costs and continue doing things the old way, or chuck existing systems and focus on the new? Government is one of these spheres, healthcare is another, so is transportation, and also education. TechCrunch is committed to accurately covering this tumultuous time, and providing a record of this zeitgeist for our readers and history.

That is why we picked Coursera as the 2012 Crunchies’ “Best Overall Startup,” because more than anything else our country is heading into a period where higher education and job training is not catching up with the pace of innovation, where the creative part of “creative destruction” has not yet overwhelmingly kicked in. And Coursera, which has opened up access to proprietary content, over 200 courses from over 33 top international and domestic schools like Stanford and Princeton, is one of the bright points of light pointing towards value and job creation in the creative space.

Over two million students have at some point taken a Coursera course. It remains to be seen whether the universities will continue to let Coursera proliferate with their intellectual property. And its main criticism is that the company currently has no clear way to monetize.

“That’s starting to change as Coursera beefs up its career services and adds the ability to earn certificates from taking its classes,” argues our education technology expert Rip Empson. “Next, it’s on the way to getting accreditation for courses so that taking classes online through its platform will count towards a degree — and there’s no reason they can’t charge for it, even if it means giving up ‘free’. Imagine being able to take a class at Harvard, get credit for it and not have to pay thousands to get it. That has serious disruptive potential.”

In the same space as  edX, Udacity, Instructure and 2U, Coursera is a two-pronged approach to  democratization of education, not only offering access to high quality content for students that can’t afford it, but also by making professors look good, by empowering them to build their own audience. Coursera gives them the opportunity to build an audience outside of the classroom, allowing them to have 10,000 students instead of 50.

The runner-up in this category is quirky ride-sharing startup Lyft.