Blackboard Inc.

Privately held
IndustryEducational technology
FoundedJanuary 1997; 21 years ago (1997-01)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
FoundersStephen Gilfus, Daniel Cane, Michael Chasen, Matthew Pittinsky
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., United States
Number of locations
Area served
Key people
William L. Ballhaus (CEO)
ServicesPlatform and enterprise consulting, managed hosting, student and training services, online program management[1]
Number of employees

Blackboard Inc. is an educational technology company with corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C.. It is known for Blackboard Learn, a learning management system.[3]

The company's CEO is William L. Ballhaus, formerly president and CEO of SRA International, who was also named chairman and president on January 4, 2016, following the resignation of Jay Bhatt, who had led Blackboard since October 2012.[4] The firm provides education, mobile, communication, and commerce software and related services to clients including education providers, corporations and government organizations. The software consists of seven platforms called Learn, Transact, Engage, Connect, Mobile, Collaborate and Analytics that are offered as bundled software. The firm was founded by Stephen Gilfus, Daniel Cane, Michael Chasen and Matthew Pittinsky[5] through a business combination in 1997, and became a public company in 2004. It operated publicly until it was purchased by Providence Equity Partners in 2011. As of January 2014, its software and services are used by approximately 17,000 schools and organizations in 100 countries.[6] Seventy-five percent of US colleges and universities and more than half of K–12 districts in the United States use its products and services.[7] According to Times Higher Education Reputation Ranking, 80 percent of the world's top academic institutions are said to use Blackboard tools.[8]


Early history

CourseInfo LLC

CourseInfo was founded in late 1996 as a cutting edge software provider founded by Cornell University students Stephen Gilfus and Daniel Cane.[9] Gilfus wrote the business plan for CourseInfo and its Interactive Learning Network product while an undergraduate at Cornell. CourseInfo (a dorm room start up) with Gilfus as the business lead and Cane as the lead developer had developed an innovative new platform for internet and networked learning called a "Course Management System" by Gilfus. [10] Gilfus as product strategist and Cane as lead tech guru had already identified a market fit and defined a category, as well as built a portfolio of 15 institutional clients including Cornell University, University of Pittsburgh and Yale Medical School. The product was initially sold to schools on an annual FTE licensing model - full school deployment enterprise model.

Blackboard LLC

Blackboard LLC. was founded in 1997 by Michael Chasen and Matthew Pittinsky and began as a consulting firm contracting to the non-profit IMS Global Learning Consortium developing a prototype for online learning and thinking through online learning standardization.[11] Chasen and Pittinsky started Blackboard after leaving KPMG Consulting where they both had worked as part of the company's higher education practice.[12][13]

Blackboard Inc.

In 1998, after Cane met Chasen at a conference on adaptive learning, Gilfus and Cane decided to merge CourseInfo LLC. with Chasen and Pittinky's Blackboard LLC. company in order to raise money and scale the business. The combined company became a corporation known as Blackboard Inc. They renamed the CourseInfo platform built by the Cornell team to Blackboard's CourseInfo; the CourseInfo brand was dropped in 2000.[12][14] As an extension of CourseInfo's original two weeks for free courses,[15] the company provided a hosted version "CourseSites" for teachers to try out for free.[16] After having raised its seed round, the new company made a profit in its first year, and its sales in 1998 approached US$1 million.[12] Other early products included Blackboard Classroom and Blackboard Campus both derivatives of the original platform.[17] In 2000, Blackboard acquired iCollege/College Enterprises Inc.'s campus card, introducing commerce capability to Blackboard's portfolio.

By 2006, the firm's learning platform software was used in more than 40% of U.S. college campuses and the company had gained a significant worldwide market share.[18] This expansion was initially funded through venture capital from a number of investors, including Pearson PLC, Dell, AOL, The Carlyle Group and Novak Biddle Venture Partners. At this time the company renamed its "Course Management System" product category into the "Learning Management Systems" category in order to sell to the corporate space.[19][20]

Overseas expansion began in the early 2000s, growing to include Asia, Australia and Europe.[21][22] Blackboard had its initial public offering (IPO) in June 2004 under the stock market ticker BBBB.[23] Sale of shares in the initial public offering raised an estimated $70 million for the company,[18] making it the second-most successful technology IPO of that year.[24]

Company expansion and buyout

In 2006, Blackboard completed the acquisition of its largest competitor, WebCT Inc, enlarging its share of the higher education market to between 65 and 75 percent.[16][25][26] Over the next five years, the company invested in a series of new products and acquisitions, including Blackboard Xythos,[27] Blackboard Connect, Blackboard Mobile, Blackboard Collaborate, and Blackboard Analytics.,[28][29] thus expanding beyond the learning management system market.[29]

By 2011, the firm's products were used by over half of colleges and universities in the US.[30] On July 1, 2011, Blackboard agreed to a $1.64 billion buyout by an investor group led by Providence Equity Partners, completed on October 4, 2011.[31][32][33] Following the sale, Providence Equity Partners merged Edline, its K-12 learning system, with Blackboard. Edline was later renamed Blackboard Engage.[34][35]

According to a TechCrunch article from 2012, despite its success, Blackboard had become "one of the most disliked — even detested — companies in education."[36] In December 2011, Fast Company reported that 93% of respondents to the Amplicate customer opinion survey "hate" the company.

In September 2017, Blackboard announced its expansion to the Indian Educational Market, and it was said to partner with 50 educational institutions.[8]

New leadership

Jay Bhatt succeeded Chasen as CEO of the company in October 2012.[37] Bhatt came to the company after serving as the CEO of Progress Software.[38] As CEO of Blackboard, Bhatt combined the company's product portfolio into offerings called solutions.[6][39] He also restructured the company by market (including North America and International) rather than by product, and consolidated product development and management under new executives.[40] It was reported in July 2014 that approximately 500 of Blackboard's 3,000 employees were hired between 2013 and 2014.[6]

The company's key focuses under Bhatt's leadership have been: student-driven learning solutions; investing in Blackboard Learn, the company's core product;[41] integrating the company’s portfolio of products; and building education service offerings, such as online program management.[28][42][43] In 2013, the company introduced a platform to host massive open online courses called MOOCs, and it introduced student profiles and databases in 2014.[28][38][41] Bhatt also changed the company's strategy for acquiring new businesses. Rather than purchasing competitors, Bhatt has stated he prefers to acquire companies based on their innovations.[41]

In July 2014, Bhatt announced multiple product changes, including a redesign of Blackboard's UX to an interface resembling iOS, expanding the deployment options of Blackboard Learn to include public cloud, and improvements to Blackboard's mobile app.[6][39]

As of July 2014, Blackboard serves approximately 17,000 schools and organizations.[6] It holds the highest share of the education market with 75 percent of colleges and universities and more than half of K-12 districts in the US using its products and services.[7]

As of September 2014, Blackboard had acquired MyEdu,[38] Perceptis,[6] and CardSmith,[44] and Requestec[45] under Bhatt's leadership. The acquisitions reflected Bhatt's new acquisition strategy of making investments that serve students and will lead to innovations in Blackboard's core teaching and learning products.[39][44]

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