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Holberton raises $20M as it pivots to become an edtech SaaS company

Frederic Lardinois
·4-min read

Holberton, the education startup that started out as a coding school in San Francisco and today works with partners to run schools in the U.S., Europe, LatAm and Europe, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series B funding round led by Redpoint eventures. Existing investors Daphni, Imaginable Futures, Pearson Ventures, Reach Capital and Trinity Ventures also participated in this round, which brings Holberton's total funding to $33 million.

Today's announcement comes after a messy 2020 for Holberton, and not only because the pandemic put a stop to in-person learning.

The original promise of Holberton was that it provided students -- which it selects through a blind admissions process -- with a well-rounded software development education akin to a college education for free. In return, students provide a set amount of their salary for the next few years to the school as part of a deferred tuition agreement, up to a maximum of $85,000.

But early last year, California's Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) directed the school to immediately cease operation, in part because the agency found that Holberton had started offering a new, unapproved program. This program, a nine-month training program augmented by six months of employment, required students to pay the full $85,000 cost of its approved programs. After a hearing, the BPPE allowed Holberton to continue to operate its other programs. A number of students also accused the school of not giving them the education it had promised.

Throughout this period, Holberton continued expanding, though. It opened campuses in Mexico and Peru, for example. Indeed, it doubled the number of schools in its system from nine to 18 in 2020.

But on December 17, 2020, Holberton voluntarily surrendered its operating license in California. The day before, Holberton announced that it would not re-open its campus in San Francisco, which had been shut down since March because of the pandemic. Holberton co-founder Sylvain Kalache argued that the school would be best positioned to achieve its mission by "working with amazing local partners who operate the campuses and deeply understand their markets’ unique needs" and not by operating its own campuses.

It now thinks of itself more as an "OS of Education" that offers franchised campuses and education tools.

In January, California's attorney general struck down the fraud allegations against the school. "California was the only market in which Holberton faced any regulatory challenges," Kalache wrote in the company's first public acknowledgment of the lawsuits. "With this now behind us, we are excited to move forward with our original mission of providing affordable and accessible education to prospective software engineers around the world."

Clearly, that's how Holberton's funders feel about this, too.

"They’ve proven successful in breaking down barriers of cost and access while delivering a world-class curriculum," said Manoel Lemos, managing partner at Redpoint eventures. "With the concept of ‘OS of Education’ as a service, they provide customers with all the tools they need for success. Customers can be nonprofit impact investors who want to improve local economies, education institutions who want to fill gaps in how they teach in a post-COVID learning environment, or corporations who want to provide the best training possible as education providers themselves or as employee development programs."

Holberton founder and CEO Julien Barbier tells me that, today, "for the first time since our creation, we have started working with universities to help them create a better experience and add hands-on education on top of their traditional methodology. Everyone’s happy: the school, the students, and the teachers -- because they prefer to focus on teaching and not spend huge amounts of time correcting projects."

He expects to see 5,000 students join this year, up from 500 in 2019, and see the network expand with new schools in the U.S., Europe, LatAm and Africa. He also noted that the company already has customers for its "OS of Education" tools for auto-grading projects and its online programs. Just this week, Holberton Tulsa announced plans to more than double its physical campus in the city.

"Raising funds is helping us support and accelerate our vision of creating this 'OS of education.' Many educational entities need help and tools to better support their students and their staff. It is now that they need our help. Again, COVID has accelerated the digital transformation, and clearly, there are a lot of gaps that need to be filled," he said. "[...] We are now a SaaS company which charges other businesses, universities or non-profits to use our tools and/or contents so that they can run their education/training programs at scale, with a better experience, while increasing the quality of education."