Grockit: real education innovation?

Nivi is preparing what he calls a “hostile takeover” of the K-12 education system, with curriculum that adheres to the standards set by each state for its public schools. Schools will also be able to create private networks, delivering their own content via the Grockit platform, similar to the way another buzzed-about startup, Ning, provides tools for communities to build their own social networks.

Grockit says it is “a social network for studying”. This is not the only such startup, but it smells like innovation is making a tiny step in American education. And not suprising when you consider the investors (plus another $7 million series C in May, total $17.7m now):

(…) Grockit has raised $10.7 million in venture financing from Benchmark Capital, Integral Capital Partners and angel investors like LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Zynga founder Mark Pincus.

And the founder knows the test prep turf, and possibly a thing or two about excellence in teaching:

(…) Grockit founder and CEO Farbood Nivi, a onetime teacher of the year for The Princeton Review, designed the site based on his classroom experiences. As the only instructor in a room with 20 or more students ranging in ability, he broke his classes down into groups where weaker students could learn from stronger students, who in turn reinforced their own learning by teaching.

Grockit, founded in 2006, is not a new company, but has recently pivoted to this new “social study group” business model (from the original model = online video prep courses).

(…) The long-term opportunity for Grockit is in matching teachers with students, says Lasky, who compares the inefficiency in today’s educational system to the auction market, pre-eBay (EBAY).

“The best algebra teacher in America may be in Mobile, Alabama, and she sees a random collection of thirty kids who happen to be in that grade, in that place, at that time,” Lasky explains. “I think if we could liberate education from these constraints using the Internet in the same way that eBay liberated collectibles from local flea markets and garage sales, it’s a multi-billion dollar opportunity.”

After all, while standardized tests may not be around forever, algebra is seemingly here to stay.

No question that Benchmark’s Lasky is correct. And I do hope that Grockit finds a path to profitability. The education productivity gap is way bigger than pre-post eBay. More tidbits on Grockit’s 2008 launch are discussed at Techcrunch50 (including video of the Grockit presentation).

BTW, that “hostile takeover” may already be underway at the Grockit Summer Enrichment Academy.

A few of the other education startups are discussed in this WSJ summary (DreamBox, SmartyCard, and Brightstorm). The venture capital numbers are getting to be biggish:

The online educational industry has been getting a big boost from venture capital firms. Last year, about $1 billion was invested in learning technology companies, according to Ambient Insight, a market research firm focusing on education and technology. That’s up from $850.6 million invested in 2007.