MissionU raises $8.5M to build an alternative one-year education program

Adam Braun, a consultant-turned-educational non-profit founder, will say he’s had a lot of good fortune that’s helped him position himself in a way to see the education system from a birds-eye view — and hopes he can help address the problem of student debt with a venture-backed startup.

That’s why Braun, with his experience at Bain and then at Pencils of Promise, is looking to train students to basically do something similar: have the ability to parachute into a company and immediately add value to their team. The program is called MissionU, and like the original Dev Bootcamp concept, it looks to train students with the entire suite of soft and analytical skills that a company like Spotify needs on a daily basis. To do that, MissionU has raised a new $8.5 million financing round led by FirstMark Capital and existing investors, including First Round Capital and John Doerr.

“When you ask entering freshman that enter college why they are going, the most popular answer is often to get a better job,” Braun said. ‘But if you ask administrators and professors, very few see that as their core responsibility. You have this huge disconnect between what the consumer, the student, wants to get out of the experience and what the service provider sees as their core responsibility.”

The program doesn’t charge any tuition upfront, but for the following 3 years takes 15% of a student’s income as long as they make more than $50,000 annually. The only “major,” so to speak, that MissionU currently offers is one in data analytics and business intelligence. The firm teaches students foundational skills like project management and public speaking and then dives into the more technical elements. The last part of the year is a project with a real company, which aims to give the student a portfolio of work and references when they start looking for jobs.

MissionU doesn’t look at test scores from the SAT or the GPA. Instead, the program tries to look at basic data about a student, and then run them through a quantitative challenge. After that, four potential students are brought together and given 45 minutes to build a presentation for something, which is designed to test their ability to cooperate. Then, there’s a final interview with an essay.  While MissionU will expand over time and looks to grow beyond San Francisco next year, that kind of focus might end up helping students that would otherwise have a difficult time directly picking a major.

The program requires students meet in person bi-weekly, with a majority of the classes happening in live online sessions. “We think it’s critical to have a blended learning model in which people are coming together,” Braun said. “You have to learn the soft skills that every employer will value most. We have advisers from some of the top institutions like Harvard and Stanford, and we spend a lot of time with them.”

While there has been a graveyard of developer boot camp programs like Dev Bootcamp and Iron Yard, which have both shut down, Braun says MissionU is targeting a different kind of demographic. App Academy and others tend to lean more toward an audience that’s older and looking to “re-skill,” while MissionU targets the traditional undergraduate student.

“People saw that there was an ability to teach an individual a technical skill where there was a huge differentiation of supply and demand and help them get a high paying job in a short period of time,” Braun said. “Any time you see that gap you’re gonna have people that deliver programs of various modes — some will work and some won’t over time. The real estate costs to doing an entirely in-person 12-week immersive program where people are at your space 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, that results in a really great transformative outcome but has a high upfront cost and therefore can only attract a certain subset of the population. That includes people that can live near or at a downtown location in a city and can afford an upfront tuition between $12,000 and $20,000.”

MissionU has partnerships with startups like Spotify, Lyft, Uber, and Warby Parker — the kinds of partners you’d expect a venture-backed startup to pick up over time — which help formulate the curriculum and help inform what skills are needed in the real world right now.

In the end, time will tell if MissionU will be successful based on whether it’s able to place its students. A strong network is going to be critical for a program like MissionU, which needs to get its students to show success stories to attract new students — and land at organizations where they can help get students jobs.