Chicago-based startup MentorMob has just launched MentorMob U, a white-label version of its platform open to educational institutions and professionals, designed to help them create and manage their own courses and programs of study. The opening up of the platform builds on MentorMob’s early vision of providing curated instructional content in a variety of areas, but opens up its tools to anyone willing to pay a subscription fee.
MentorMob will continue to offers its “Learning Playlists” free to its community, but the new SaaS version offers institutions additional features and capabilities not available in the base product. Administrators can tailor learning content to specific users, or specific groups of users, organize content by department, and create quizzes and tests to assess milestones in a student’s development.
In an interview, MentorMob co-founder Vince Leung explained why and how the startup arrived at the decision to open up MentorMob to outside educators and institutions.
“People have been asking for a white label service with privacy features,” he said. “Specifically for teachers, we’ve been working with them and they have been giving the team feedback on features that they would want, including additional privacy, point and click methods for organizing students and playlists, along with analytics to view student engagement.”
While the move wasn’t specifically planned, Leung said that the team always had the idea of a white label platform play on the back burner. “This is something during conception that we knew was an opportunity, but after we launched we started seeing that there was more of a proof for a market for us to develop this service,” he said.
MentorMob U will have to contend with a number of products, but none perhaps looms larger than the similarly named education offering from Apple, iTunes U. Recently spun off as a standalone application complete with courses to which users can subscribe, iTunes U is already in use by many academic institutions around the world. But Leung noted some important ways in which MentorMob U differs from its heavyweight competition.
“We are a platform that is device agnostic,” he said. “[And] we allow not only one teacher to create content, but collaboration for multiple teachers, students and others to create content. We support virtually any digital media content, not only today’s content, but any web-enabled content that may come in the future.” MentorMob’s advantages mean that users don’t have to be using any specific kind of hardware (which Leung notes is expensive in Apple’s case), and doesn’t lock institutions down to a specific content library or media ecosystem.
Back in early June, PandoDaily reported that MentorMob was “said to be closing in on an initial round of seed funding,” which would add to the incubator financing (from Catapult Chicago) and bootstrapping funds it already had acquired. Leung wouldn’t comment specifically either way on talk of a new round, saying only that the company is “always open to options for strategic funding as there are a lot of people who not only provide money, but also invaluable experience with developing and scaling products like ours.”
Online learning is a busy space, with sites like Skillshare and Udemy offering classes and training. Others are trying to be the backend for teachers and schools online, too, like Showbie and Understoodit. MentorMob’s success will likely lie in how easy it can make on-boarding new staff and schools, as well as remaining price-competitive with other offerings while demonstrating a better rate of efficacy in terms of student engagement and performance.