Last week the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote about the boom in higher education startups. Today it profiled a few of them, including one created by Stanford MBA student Pooja Sankar. From Jeffrey R. Young in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Ms. Sankar, who is 31, was inspired to create the service based on her own experience as an undergraduate in India, where she studied at the highly selective Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur. She says she was a shy student, and one of only three women majoring in computer science, so she often found herself watching from the wings as more social students collaborated on homework assignments. She felt there had to be a way to recreate a study hall online, in a way that made it easy for shy students to ask questions anonymously.
After graduating, she got a master’s degree in computer science at the University of Maryland at College Park, and then worked as an engineer for Facebook and other companies for a few years. When she decided to head to Stanford to study business, she was sure she would not try to start a company of her own, since she found the prospect “too scary.” But a course on entrepreneurship made her realize that the path to a company was simply a series of “baby steps,” and that she wanted to bring her vision of a better “question-and-answer platform” to life.
She wrote the original version of Piazza herself, after teaching herself the programming language Ruby on Rails from a book. By the time she first sought investors, she already had hundreds of students using the service. She raised an initial round of $1.5-million last year from the venture-capital firm Sequoia Capital, and raised an additional $6-million from investors in November.
The story of Piazza highlights many of the reasons that I believe the campus is the frontier for entrepreneurship and that current disruptions in higher education create immense opportunities for entrepreneurs. The campus is and has always been a market and student entrepreneurs understand this better than most.
BTW, its interesting the note how Sankar distributes her platform, specifically avoiding university technology managers and going to individual faculty members. Her approach highlights the individual nature of entrepreneurial economy. Most universities view the world through an organization centric model and therefore miss many of the opportunities of the entrepreneurial economy.
I am currently writing a paper exploring the roots of the organization centric models employed by universities pursuing innovation and the limitations of that approach in the entrepreneurial economy. Contact me if you’d like to read a draft.