Galvanize CEO Opens Up About $18M Round, Plan to Create Ed Startup

Ever since Jim Deters and his co-founders launched Galvanize in Denver in October 2012, they’ve emphasized what they call the three C’s: community, capital, and curriculum.

But, given Galvanize’s impressive co-working spaces in Denver, San Francisco, and Boulder, CO—as well as the Galvanize Ventures seed fund expected to total $7 million that it has quietly raised—that third C tended to get overlooked.

Now that might change, following the official closing of Galvanize’s $18 million Series A round. Xconomy first reported that Galvanize raised money earlier this month, but now the round has closed and Deters, Galvanize’s CEO, is talking.

“We’re building something that we think is the future of education,” Deters said.

The round, led by University Ventures Fund, will be used to expand Galvanize’s “gSchool” education program to new cities, bolster its faculty, and add to its curriculum. The program offers full-time, 24-week courses to train software developers, as well as part-time workshops. The full-time courses cost between $20,000 and $23,000.

The gSchool has been part of Galvanize since it opened in Denver, and classes have expanded to Boulder and will soon to San Francisco. The classes are intended to turn novices into skilled, seasoned developers ready to work for a tech company. Experienced developers teach each class, and the curriculum will adapt to new trends in the industry and to meet the hiring needs of local companies, Deters said.

“We’ve invested extremely heavily in building what we think is the best curriculum ever and in making it extensible. A big part of this funding will be extending our curriculum across other [programming] languages, across other capabilities and skill sets,” Deters said.

He said currently the program covers “the full stack” and includes instruction that covers programming languages, such as Ruby on Rails and Javascript, and user interface and experience design. Over time it will add new modules, like one covering the Google Go programming language.

Galvanize also will invest heavily in its teaching staff.

“We’re trying to build a faculty that blends both educators and practitioners in a way that’s never been done before,” Deters said. “That’s important, because an educator might be good at educating, but they don’t have real-world experience, but if you’re just a practitioner and you’ve never taught somebody, you might not know the best ways to build a learning environment and to build a deep curriculum.”

The principle behind the gSchool is Deters’s belief that there’s a gap between how colleges and universities are training developers and the skills companies need. There’s also a severe shortage of qualified developers, and Deters believes that creates a huge opportunity for the people who figure out the fastest, most economical way to produce qualified developers.

Other people seem to agree this model has potential and have similar programs in the works. One of the most notable and established is New York City-based General Assembly. It was launched in 2011 and has raised nearly $50 million, including a $35 million Series C round led by Institutional Venture Partners.

While gSchool has a few dozen graduates so far, General Assembly says it has about 6,000 graduates from its eight campuses around the world. The gSchool offers longer classes, although General Assembly has a larger number of courses and online classes.

There are other companies like Dev Bootcamp that offer immersion classes for developers, as well as online programs like Codeacademy, which is free.

Deters thinks Galvanize will be able to breakthrough in the emerging market.

“There is incredible demand today for a more efficient way to create employable skills. As a result, many new modes of skills-based education are emerging, but none that align learning and work like Galvanize,” he said.

Deters said a major factor is the co-working or community element. General Assembly ended its co-working business earlier this year to focus on education.

Deters thinks that’s where the community aspect of Galvanize’s vision gives it something unique. Galvanize is or was the home of the Denver offices of national early stage startups like Uber, which was the first Galvanize tenant before moving to a larger space, and Pandora. Colorado startups like Perch, Active Junky, and Roximity have had offices at Galvanize, and it rents out desk space to entrepreneurs.

It also is part of Google’s network of “tech hubs.”

Because of that, Galvanize often is described as a co-working space or incubator, although Deters hates those terms. He envisions each Galvanize location as “a modern campus” where students interact directly with experienced professionals. They can swap ideas, students can see how what they’re learning is used in the industry, and the companies can meet potential employees.

“I believe the context of your learning environment is as important as the content or the curriculum you’re being taught,” Deters said.

Galvanize plans on creating more campuses over the next few years, which Deters believes will create a network across the country that clients can use to extend their geographic reach.

While Deters ultimately hopes to change the education system, Galvanize and gSchool are for-profit businesses. With University Ventures and other unnamed investors on board, it will need to return a sizeable profit and/or exit.

“The why behind all this is I believe you can change the world through entrepreneurship and education. I do think we can build a very profitable business at the same time,” Deters said. “Where that ends up going—do we get acquired, do we take it public—we’re not really focused on that. We’re focused on building a great business that’s both sustainable and impactful.”

Deters said that “trillions and trillions” is spent on education worldwide, and while that may be a bit of hyperbole, he is sure the market is sizeable enough to sustain many different models and players.

The investment from University Ventures is an endorsement of that view and Galvanize as well, Deters said. The firm’s stated goal is to advance “the development of the next generation of colleges and universities on a global scale,” and it only invests in higher-education programs. Since 2011 it has raised two funds totaling at least $288 million. The firm’s major backer is Bertelsmann, the giant German media and publishing conglomerate.

The gSchool is unaccredited for now, which means students cannot receive financial aid from federal programs. While that might be a negative in some people’s eyes, Deters said Galvanize is trying to counter that by creating a program that’s respected in the tech industry and results in good jobs for students. Graduates from the first few classes have a 98 percent hiring rate and have landed jobs at companies such as Pivotal Labs and SendGrid.

Money from the new round also will go toward expanding Galvanize’s building/campus in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood to 70,000 square feet. The expansion gives Galvanize extra space for gSchool classes, events, and more startups and entrepreneurs to use it for co-working.

Galvanize also is building a second campus in Denver and recently announced it plans to open one in Fort Collins, CO.

The new funds for education and national expansion build on Galvanize’s early success in creating a hub for Denver’s startup community. It originally made its name as a place for hosting events and hackathons, along with being one of the first places to provide desk space and services to startups.


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