Digital skills bootcamp provider Springboard has some extra bounce in its step these days, thanks to a $31 million investment led by Telstra Ventures, announced Wednesday.
Springboard has shifted significantly since it was founded in 2013. Back then, the company was a search tool for identifying online courses. Today, it sells workforce training programs of its own. Each six-to-nine-month experience combines virtual instruction, in fields such as data science and software engineering, with personalized mentorship and project-based learning opportunities.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on reinvention,” says CEO Gautam Tambay.
Reinvention is what attracts clients to Springboard, too. Most of the company’s students already have bachelor’s degrees and jobs but are hoping to change careers, Tambay explains. They’re willing to pay between $7,000 and $12,000 to participate in a Springboard program because of the better employment prospects and higher salaries that often become available to people who gain in-demand digital skills.
Those promises are not just theoretical, Tambay adds. The company guarantees graduates in the U.S. and India that they’ll secure a job in their new field, or they’ll get their tuition money back. So far, out of about 5,000 participants, Springboard says it has issued about a dozen refunds. For the rest, the company reports that its graduates see an average salary bump of $26,000.
These outcomes appealed to leaders at Telstra Ventures, who have over $500 million under management and who have been studying the digital education space for about two years. So did the way Springboard combines new methods of virtual instruction with the older concepts of mentorship and apprenticeship.
“The mentors make a difference for these students,” says Mark Sherman, managing director at the investment firm. “There are these holes in the swiss cheese of knowledge that mentors can fill.”
Springboard recruits mentors who work at big companies to counsel students one-on-one through the ups and downs of learning new skills and navigating the job search process.
“To become a data scientist, that’s a hard journey,” Tambay says. “Most people need human support.”
COVID-19 has made Telstra leaders keen on companies that already have experience delivering products and services remotely, Sherman says. Springboard qualifies. Prior to the pandemic, the company was seeing more than 200 percent year-over-year growth in student enrollment. By June of this year, enrollment was up 350 percent over the previous year.
With the pandemic constricting the job market, Springboard plans to apply its new capital in part toward improving the tools and services it uses to help its students land good jobs, Tambay says. That includes its job forecasting system, which uses algorithms to predict which students are on track to land their dream jobs, and which students may need extra support from the company’s career counselors.
“Ensuring that our students continue to be trained to find roles in the new economy—it is a post-pandemic challenge,” the Springboard CEO says. “Our commitment is we are going to get every student a job.”
Other company plans for the new financing include expanding Springboard’s business partnerships with colleges and companies to virtually train their students and workers in digital skills.
Although the pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of work and life, some business practices are stubborn to change. Despite Telstra’s enthusiasm for investment opportunities in remote education, Sherman says he wasn’t ready to seal the deal with Springboard until he and Tambay met up in San Francisco for a socially distanced coffee.
“I’ve never made an investment without meeting someone physically,” Sherman says. “He’s as delightful a guy on a video as he is in person. I must have passed the test as well.”
For Springboard’s Series B round, Telstra was joined by other new investors Vulcan Capital and SJF Ventures. Returning investors included Costanoa Ventures, Pearson Ventures, Reach Capital, International Finance Corporation, 500 Startups, Blue Fog Capital and Learn Capital.