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Orbis Education lands $8 million in venture capital

January 19, 2010

A Silicon Valley venture capital firm has invested $8 million in Orbis Education, a locally based maker of nursing-education software.

Menlo Park, Calif.-based Lightspeed Venture Partners engineered the capital infusion in late December to help Orbis expand its nursing-education programs. Orbis announced the deal today.

“We took the approach of build slowly, show what we’re doing works,” said Orbis CEO Dan Briggs. “We’ve proven the concept. Now we’re looking at growth.”

Founded in 2003, Orbis offers a system that helps universities and hospitals train new nurses. Last year, it had $4.5 million in revenue, Briggs said, and 33 employees. Orbis aims to boost its work force past 50 by the end of the year.

Before founding Orbis, Briggs, 49, had a 19-year career with Roche Diagnostics Corp., rising from the sales ranks to lead the development and sale of the corporation's virtual physician startup MyDoc.com. A subsidiary of locally based Standard Management Corp. bought MyDoc.com in 2003.

At its inception, Orbis raised $1 million from Briggs’ friends and family. In 2007, it attracted another $3 million from local angel investors. Orbis seeks to capitalize on the coming nationwide shortage of nurses, a trend driven by the aging U.S. population, health care reform, and the limited physical capacity of nursing schools.

Briggs noted that last year, U.S. nursing schools turned away more than 100,000 applicants for lack of classroom space. Based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Orbis expects a shortfall of 600,000 nurses in the U.S. by 2016.

Briggs said his company’s system is helping to address the demand for new nurses by virtually linking nursing schools and hospitals. Through Orbis, the schools can offer classroom content online but still provide the hands-on clinical training nurses require to earn bachelor's degrees.

More than 500 students are now using the Orbis system through partnerships in San Diego, Glendale, Calif., and Indianapolis. Here, Orbis has partnered with Marian University and St. Vincent Health. Briggs said Orbis is charting a “high 90s” success rate on nursing board exams among students who have used its system. He said that compares with a national average in the “high 80s.”

Other Orbis customers include San Diego State University, the University of Oklahoma, San Diego-based Sharp HealthCare, and Glendale, Calif.-based Glendale Adventist Medical Center.

Briggs said Orbis tracks the classroom portion of nursing education online through a variety of means, including interactive simulations, student-and-faculty chat rooms and virtual games. The hands-on portion happens in clinical settings.

The Orbis system appeals particularly to students who have earned degrees in other fields, Briggs said, but discover later in life they’d like to become nurses. Ironically, he said, many of its users never notice Orbis’ role in their education.

“The schools [that educate nurses] do it very well. Marian is an excellent education center. We increase their capacity,” Briggs said. “You still go to nursing school at Marian. You graduate with a Marian degree. Orbis’ job, we’re kind of like Intel. It makes your computer operate correctly. But you say you have a Compaq. At the end of the day, the student never knows who Orbis is.”

Orbis will use the bulk of its $8 million to hire more programmers, Web developers and IT specialists who can deploy its system at more nursing schools and hospitals.

Lightspeed Venture Partners principal Andrew Chung is taking a seat on Orbis’ board.

“Orbis has an innovative and cost-effective model for helping nursing schools expand student capacity and generate a high-quality pool of nursing graduates,” Chung said. “We are excited about the company’s long-term ability to revolutionize the nursing education field.”
 

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