Here’s a good question for you: what city is a hub for e-learning companies? You can’t be faulted if you didn’t guess Phoenix, but that’s the answer. Hidden away in the metro Phoenix area is a vibrant cluster of education technology companies — a cluster that has been nurtured at least as far back as the dot com boom. Corpedia, KnowledgeNet, and InXSol are all here, University of Phoenix was founded here, and the latest star in the area’s tiara is Parchment.
Parchment, whose mission is to unleash education credentials by “unlocking the critical data they embody,” works with institutions and corporations around the world helping people collect, promote, and share their education credentials in simple and secure ways. At Parchment.com, students can research colleges and discover their chances of admission, see how they compare with peers, get college recommendations, and send official transcripts when they are ready to apply. And through Parchment’s Docufied division, nearly 9000 schools and universities, six state education agencies, and hundreds of thousands of individuals exchange millions of electronic transcripts and other student records. Generations of current and former students who have no clue how to get their transcripts to prove they are qualified for jobs can now breathe easier.
Parchment is led by Matthew Pittinsky, co-founder of Blackboard, which he started in 1997 and left in 2008 to move with his wife back to her hometown in Phoenix. After two years of teaching education sociology at ASU (yes, he has a Ph.D, too), Matthew decided to start Parchment, based on an idea that had been incubating in his brain since Blackboard.
At the time, he was an investor in Docufied, based in L.A., which sends secure transcripts back and forth among universities and education entities. Matthew liked the idea of Docufied, decided to unify the two companies, make Docufied a division of Parchment, and headquarter the company in Scottsdale, AZ, ten minutes from his home. He then took an operating role as CEO.
When I visited the Parchment headquarters, I realized why (outside of the personal reasons) he made that choice. The office is in a large, high ceilinged, airy building right on Scottsdale Road, within walking distance of all the amenities you would want in a city–Starbucks, restaurants, pubs. The building has ample free parking. It’s actually perfect for a startup.
Parchment is backed by the same VCs that backed Blackboard, and just raised a C round in February that allows it to double in size. It’s the kind of company that doesn’t do a lot of publicity, and doesn’t take its eye off the ball to “brand” itself too openly.
The biggest barrier Pittinsky faces in Phoenix: locating development talent. And that’s because the metro Phoenix area is so large, that it’s tough to get the word out that Parchment exists, let alone that it’s hiring. Of course I said I’d help. (It didn’t hurt that his wife went to high school with my daughter.) If you want to live and work in a beautiful place, not much beats Scottsdale, Arizona.