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Benchmark Invests $25M Seed In Online Edu’s Minerva

April 4, 2012

San Francisco-based The Minerva Project has raised $25M in seed funding from Benchmark Capital for its to be launched online university. The company was able to raise such a large round because Minerva’s Founder and CEO is Ben Nelson who was CEO of Snapfish, which was bought by HP in 2005 for $300M.

The concept thus far is to create separation from other online education firms by creating a sense of elitism. You can see where they are going with their logo and their use of language with terms like “pedagogical approach.” Other than that it’s hard to image how Minerva is going to be really elite. Does that mean they will turn away B grade applicants? Will it be able to recruit professors from Berkeley and Yale? Minerva says that is the case, but why would top students apply and why would top professors do this? It won’t be easy but we agree with the concept. The alarm:clock wife got an online degree and got what we thought was a great education but outsiders don’t perceive her education as elite.

Minerva plans a student body of just 200 in its first year in 2014. Students will pay less than will pay under $20,000 in tuition, so $4M in year one in revenues.

PandoDaily has a good interview. Inside HigherEd also has a good write-up where they concede the this is not a whacky idea. Marget Soltan throws cold water on the concept, although we really don’t buy her argument completely. Her strongest point is that if someone doesn’t get into Harvard they will apply to Cornell, not Minerva. But that doesn’t take into account that strong students who have children in school, or a spouse with a good job can’t move to Ithaca or Cambridge.

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