Berlin-based startup iversity announced a $1.6 million funding round by the European Union, the federal state of Brandenburg and BMP media investors today.
During its beta the platform already attracted more than 11.000 users and their feedback will now be integrated in the redesigned website of the service which is going to go live in September.
iversity is an online workspace for educators and students. Lecturers can organize courses, research projects and conferences, and students are provided with tools for interaction and collaboration, something that the founders felt was lacking during their own studies.
“Rather than just sitting alongside each other in anonymous lectures, iversity enables students to learn from and with each other online.“
Hannes Klöpper, managing director and co-founder of iversity, was so kind to answer a couple of questions via email.
How is iversity going to grow its user base?
“Starting out our approach is primarily bottom up, although we are obviously happy to talk to any university leader that is interested in working with us.
We want to provide every educator with a choice beyond the closed and clunky solution that is sanctioned by their IT department. We provide an open platform. Signing up is as easy as creating an e-mail account. Any educator can decide to create a course and can start using the platform. Obviously, iversity is completely free to educators as well as their students.”
Are you focused on Germany or is iversity available internationally right from the start?
“Just like academia in general, iversity is a decidedly global product. The bulk of our users during the beta phase hailed from Germany, but we are convinced that iversity will soon have a global user base.
The need for a state-of-the-art digital education infrastructure is equally pressing whether in India, North America or Brazil. Also we have some pretty cool features planned that will reveal the tangible benefits of working in the context of a global collaboration network.”
As you are offering the service itself for free to educators and students, what is the business model?
“In Germany in particular people are wary of the commercialization of education. Luckily our business model allows us to provide access to everyone free of charge.
We earn our money in the very traditional market for learning materials. Students can buy their books and print outs through our platform. We get a cut. It’s simple. It makes sense. In fact, it’s an additional service.”
Based on the latest research that student collaboration and networking can increase scores, iversity is entering a promising but also increasingly crowded and competitive market. There is Chegg with its new strategy of offering a centralized place for all of the student’s needs or platforms like Piazza, Inigral and 2tor that already launched in North America.
The business model based on book and print out sales might be difficult to maintain in the US as Amazon, Nook, Chegg, Kno, Inkling and BookRenter are disrupting this market heavily at the moment.
Having said that, it also shows that there is a growing need for Internet based solutions in higher education and the market is still very young. And iversity is one of the first services out of Europe which should give the startup a strategic advantage on this side of the Atlantic.