Digital learning startup Benchprep expands into video-based software training courses


When Benchprep launched two years ago (and rebranded from its initial launch as Watermelon Express), it focused only on interactive test prep content. But over time, it spotted an opportunity in providing content for the classes students take before and after the SAT, ACT and other standardized tests. On Monday, the startup is taking a step beyond those basic curriculum classes (algebra, chemistry, etc.) with software training courses delivered via video.

In addition to the 40 courses on Excel (s MSFT), Adobe (s ADBE) and other software tools, the Chicago-based company has rolled out video courses for about 20 other subjects, including college-level math and chemistry.

The expansion, said Benchprep co-founder Ashish Rangnekar, furthers the startup’s plan to be a one-stop shop for digital learning content for college students.

“We asked what can we offer them that goes along with their educational life cycle? One of the big things that emerged was software training,” he said.

He also added that while the company had previously included video in parts of other offerings, expanding into entirely video-based courses is another way they can keep students engaged on mobile, a platform on which they’re already extra active.

While Rangnekar acknowledged that subject matter content on Benchprep may overlap with content found on Khan Academy and skill-focused content may be similar to that on Udemy or, he emphasized that unlike those sites Benchprep is a distributor, not producer of content. For the new software courses, for example, the startup partnered with CompuWorks and the NROC (National Repository of Online Courses). Other content partners include Pearson (s PSO) and O’Reilly. He also said that while other online learning sites offer classes on software like Excel and Adobe, Benchprep’s courses specifically target college students using those tools for classes, not adults hoping for professional advancement.

Students may be able to access some content from other online learning sites for free or a lower one-off charge. But Benchprep believes its value is as a central location for students to not only access courses that fill a variety of needs but get help evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, as well as recommendations on the courses that will help them progress.

To drive home that “education-as-a-service” proposition, the company last fall adopted a subscription model in which students pay $30 a month.

To date, the company has raised $6 million from investors including New Enterprise Associates and says it has 410,000 registered users, 60,000 paying customers and offers more than 200 courses.

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