New Age School Raises $2.3 Million to Train Techies

Holbertton School co-founders Julien Barbier (left) and Sylvain Kalache

The Holberton School, founded two years ago to help fill the tech skills gap using non-traditional learning techniques, has raised $2.3 million to boost that effort. The funding round was led by daphni, a European venture capital firm with contributions from Reach Capital and Jerry Murdock, co-founder of Insight Venture Partners.

In hopes of building a pool of experienced software engineers and programmers, Holberton offers select students a hands-on, project-based education that is reportedly more effective than traditional coursework. Students are selected by an algorithm that gauges their motivation, talent, and willingness to cooperate. said Holberton co-founder Sylvain Kalache. “When I was at a startup here it was hard to find talent. Then, when I went to LinkedIn, it was still hard to find talent,” Kalache told Fortune.

Holberton students are given tasks like building a web site, and turned loose on it. There are mentors from companies like Docker and IBM (IBM), but the students are encouraged to work in teams to find the tools they need and then get the job done.

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The school offers a two-year program that mixes on-site project work with full-time internships at outside companies, and another nine months of more specialized work, said Kalache. Located in San Francisco’s start-up dense south-of-market (SoMA) neighborhood, the school groups students in classes of typically 29 or 32 people.

Tuition is free, but once graduates get jobs, they must pay 17% of their gross salaries back to Holberton over three years. The program’s goals are to help bright students find meaningful work and ease the shortage of programmers and software engineers in the Bay Area, a challenge that, as Kalache affects startups and large companies alike.

Previously, some $2 million in seed money was raised by investors including Dan Scholnick of Trinity Ventures; Jerry Yang, co-founder and former chief executive of Yahoo (YHOO), and others.

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Holberton was named after Frances Elizabeth “Betty” Holberton, one of the six programmers of ENIAC, the world’s first programmable, all-electronic computer. And in honor of its namesake the school wants to get more women into tech. Thus far it’s seen some success: More than half of those enrolled are women, Kalache said. And student ages range from 16 to 68.


Correction: Feb. 7, 2017 (7:50 p.m.) Because of inaccurate information provided in a press release, an earlier version of this article mistakenly said that Insight Venture Partners had invested in Holberton School. In fact, Jerry Murdock, co-founder of Insight Venture Partners, invested his personal money.

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