We at Educelerate are proud to help break the industry transforming news of the newest (and biggest) entrant in the MOOC space, UNext.com. Launching today with a $150 million investment led by Larry Ellison and Michael Milken’s Knowledge Universe, UNext has raised more than Cousera, Udacity, edX , NovoED and Udemy combined. The startup is based upon a new academic alliance made up of the University of Chicago, Stanford University, Columbia University, Carnegie-Mellon University and the London School of Economics which have together created its online curriculum and will share in royalties from its content and technology.
As unique from its MOOC competitors, UNext’s first programs are in business and have been sold to such corporate clients as IBM and Ford, though plans remain for its push directly to consumers later this summer. Founded and led by noted entrepreneur, economist, lawyer and educator Andrew Rosenfield and his Chicago-based team of academic and business executives, UNext has also formed an academic advisory board comprising Nobel Laureate economics professors Gary Becker and Merton Miller, and has hired as its provost, the former Stanford engineering professor Sebastian Thrun. Thrun’s problems with his former start-up Udacity have been widely reported, but it is telling that both he and Stanford have pulled out of all other MOOCs to take on foundational roles in UNext, alongside professors and the institutions themselves at Chicago, Columbia, Carnegie-Mellon and the LSE.
Faced with the departure of Thrun, Udacity investor Marc Andressen reportedly has commended Sebastian and his team for what they built and still considers the company a very successful experiment. UNext, on the other hand, is already valued at $800 million and may quickly follow on 2U’s IPO last week, particularly with Larry Ellison and Michael Milken pushing for an exit. Of course, their involvement has not been without controversy, stirring debates amongst academics about working with such characters as well as broader questions inspired by the underlying business model on who owns online content as well as the efficacy of online learning.
As the start-up rapidly scales to 150 staff members (not including adjunct professors), additional work space is being sought, including a potential take over of the 600,000 square foot downtown space previously slated for Motorola (prior to Google’s divestiture of such to Lenovo). And in following the wake established by Educelerate, UNext has also been starting new technology development offices throughout the other leading markets for edtech including Bloomington, IN (the home of Sakai and Angel LMS) and Minneapolis (the home of NCS/Pearson Vue, Edmentum, Capella University, etc.).