“Community colleges are one of America’s best-kept secrets,” Jill Biden, who teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College,
once remarked. These schools, she notes, are increasingly “forming partnerships with businesses in their communities, ensuring that students are trained for jobs that need to be filled.”
One startup is hoping to play matchmaker between students, community colleges and employers. Viridis Learning has closed $3.2 million in a Series A round led by Thayer Ventures.
Other investors in the New York City-based company include the Lumina Foundation, the Carver Family Office, Serious Change, NVC Investments and angel investors such as Carlos Gutierrez (former CEO of Kellogg and U.S. Secretary of Commerce) and Ken Hicks (former chairman and CEO of FootLocker) and C.S. Park (former CEO of Seagate).
Viridis Learning was founded in 2009 by Felix Ortiz III, who after finishing his service in the U.S. Army found few resources to help him and fellow veterans transition into civilian careers. He has since broadened the scope of the company to offer a “marketplace that brings together employers, community colleges and students,” Ortiz, the company’s CEO, tells EdSurge.
As tuition at four-year universities continues to rise, community colleges offer an affordable alternative where “nontraditional” students—who are often older (the average age of a community college student is 29) and juggle family and job responsibilities—to pick up new skills. But only 39 percent who start at a community college finish within six years.
Through Viridis, Ortiz aims to help schools to align academic programs with the needs of local companies, and offer students a pathway that lays out the skills and competencies required to get those jobs. Based on their desired careers, students will see a list of relevant programs available from local community colleges. Viridis’ “Skills Passport” will reflect students’ completed coursework and allow employers to review it.
“Through this passport, we’re able to validate students’ skills and become a sort of ‘Equifax for employment’,” Ortiz tells EdSurge. Currently, Viridis is targeting jobs in the “middle-skilled” labor market, in fields such as retail operations, hospitality and IT. “We don’t want to push people into hourly jobs,” he adds. “We want to help them get full-time positions that pay at least $35,000 per year.”
Data from Viridis will offer schools insights into which programs are effective in helping students land jobs. So far 16 community college districts, encompassing more than 70 campuses in eight states, have signed up with Viridis Learning. One of them is Dallas Community College District (DCCD), which just implemented Viridis for its logistics technology program and currently has 20 students in its first cohort.
“Viridis helps us identify employment opportunities that are aligned with the type of skills that students are expected to have upon the completion of certificate,” says Dawn Gomez, coordinator of career services at North Lake College, one of DCCD’s campuses. When employers use the system, “they’ve looked at the pathway and have a good idea of the type of graduate they’re going to get.”
To help develop its technology, Viridis recently acquired two other startups: Student Blueprint and Civy Analytics. The former, launched with support from Paul Freedman’s Entangled Ventures, helps community college students plan their courses to meet career goals. Civy Analytics built an online tool that helps users find available job and training opportunities from local workforce investment boards.
With the funding, Ortiz aims to “scale the employment triangle between students, colleges and employers” from cities to state-wide partnerships. The company has already partnered with the Louisiana Workforce Commission to make its Skills Passport available to those looking for jobs—and the skills needed to get them.
The company currently has 18 full-time employees and plans to expand to 40 with the addition of a new office in Palo Alto, CA.