Springboard raises $9.5M to offer an online alternative to the master’s degree

Springboard is a platform that helps people advance their tech skills, and ultimately career. Today it took a step further to realizing its own potential after it landed a $9.5 million Series A round to develop specialisms.

I wrote about the U.S.-based service nearly two years ago when it was just starting out and it had gobbled up a $1.7 million seed round.

Then, Springboard had brought around 1,000 students to what was then a MOOC driven by a network of hundreds of mentors to customize the three-month learning experience. Now, it is starting to look more like an online skills school.

It has ‘graduated’ or is currently teaching over 7,000 students, who have gone on to companies like Amazon, Boeing, Saatchi & Saatchi, Visa and more, CEO and co-founder Gautam Tambay told TechCrunch in an interview.

“The world and the economy are changing in a way that traditional education can’t adapt to,” Tambay. “This is education designed to fit your life instead of the other way around.”

The round was led by Costanoa Ventures, with Learn Capital and Jyoti Bansal, the founder of Appdynamics, participating. Existing backers Blue Fog Capital, Rocketship.vc, and Moneta Ventures returned to invest again. Mark Selcow from Costanoa will join the startup’s board.

Beyond its MOOC-like service, Springboard has branched off to offer six-month courses designed for specific industry training with data science and digital marketing its first specialisms. The idea is that anyone seeking a new career or a break can manage the training around their existing life, without needing to uproot and move city to attend a university.

The new “career track” courses start from $7,500, so are a good deal cheaper than a master’s degree, albeit a very different option. Students work directly with mentors working in the field, and are opened up to the mentor and alumni network which can lead to job experience and potential hiring.

“You’re not listening to a lecture alongside 40 other students. Instead, you get get one-on-one attention from mentors, career coaches and industry experts. It’s an education tailored to your needs,” Tambay explained.

Nonetheless, he said that close to half of the students in the dedicated tracks said they had considered returning to school for a master’s degree. One feature he touts, fees aside, is a guarantee that each graduate of the advanced course will find a related job within six months or get their money back. With nearly 1,000 students graduated from this segment or currently in a cohort — new ones open monthly — Springboard is yet to issue a refund, and Tambay thinks it will remain that way since most find a match before the course is done.

“Millennials are likely to have 15 jobs with four to five career changes through their working lives. But options to make those life-changing shifts either involve taking on debt to go to graduate school or relying on a bare-bones online class with no support,” Tambay said.

By offering specialisms at a fraction of a master’s degree, he thinks that young people will opt to “break out” the cost of school in favor of more focused courses that offer more direct employment skills. Ivy League schools, which of course provide a network beyond studying, are one of the obvious exceptions, the Springboard CEO readily admitted.

That’s a viewpoint we heard from Kenzie Academy, an educational program starting out in Indianapolis that we wrote about in October.

Following this new capital, Springboard is looking to expand its premium course to branch into industry verticals such as information security. It is also looking to expand its core program into India, where it already has a presence via an engineering team that sits in Bangalore.

“It’s a massive market for learning and one that we understand well,” said Tambay. Both he and co-founder Parul Gupta were born and raised in the country.

Over the next year the company plans to double its headcount, which is currently at 40 across its San Francisco HQ and the India presence. Tambay said the firm recently hit profitability, so the new investment will go to growing its student base, increasing specialisms and improving its tech.

“We don’t need the capital to survive so it will all go to investing in our student and alumni community and growth,” he explained.

The company is also looking into how it can work with employers to offer white label-style in-house training or skills development. That’s a focus it will also flesh out next year, starting with those it has relationships with via hiring and mentoring networks.