Academic social network raises $5 million

Coursekit, the academic social network, has raised $5 million in a Series A round of venture capital financing. Led by The Social+Capital Partnership, a new Silicon Valley venture firm started by former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, the round includes existing investors IA Ventures and new angel investors Joel Spolsky, the CEO of StackExchange, and Michael Kearns, a professor of computer science at the University of Pennsylvania. Ted Maidenberg, a general partner at The Social+Capital Partnership and a former board member at LivingSocial, has joined Coursekit’s board.

Coursekit is a free way for instructors to manage their courses and engage their students. This fall it was piloted by professors at 30 schools and received a positive response.

"It’s been a medium for bonding, extending our conversation beyond the classroom,” said Neal Menschel, a photography professor at Stanford University. "It’s not time consuming, and it is enriching."

Coursekit was created by three University of Pennsylvania students out of frustration with an expensive learning management system used by many schools. After raising $1 million in financing in May 2011, the trio — Joe Cohen, Dan Getelman, and Jim Grandpre — left school early to focus on Coursekit.

Coursekit is available to any instructor, for free. This fall, Coursekit was piloted in courses at 30 universities nationwide, and has people saying that it could be a makeover for education itself. “I've always been a reticent user of social media, but Coursekit has opened my eyes to a greater depth of communication,” said Neal Menschel, a professor piloting Coursekit at Stanford University.

Instructors are not the only ones excited about Coursekit. The introduction of social networking has been welcomed by students. “It's been great getting feedback from other students as I work on my project,” reports a senior at NYU on Coursekit.

With almost 3500 students using Coursekit in pilot courses, the word is spreading quickly. Coursekit has also hired 80 student ambassadors who are excited to bring it to their campuses.

“Our goal is to turn courses into communities online. Because when that happens, amazing things follow: people share ideas, make new relationships, ask questions, and get to know each other,” said Joseph Cohen, Coursekit's co-founder and CEO. “It transforms the learning experience from something that happens twice a week into a continuous conversation.”

Cohen, 20, started the company with his co-founders Dan Getelman and Jim Grandpre as undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania. In May 2011, they closed a $1 million seed financing and announced that they were leaving school to build the business.

“We have networks for our personal and business lives, but there is no education network. That is Coursekit's mission: to be the fundamental platform for learning,” said Ted Maidenberg of The Social+Capital Partnership. “We have seen first hand with Facebook and LivingSocial what young, ambitious entrepreneurs are able to create and we see many of the same attributes in Joe and his team.”