Kenzie Academy scores $4.2 million, plans to expand school

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Tech apprenticeship and coding school Kenzie Academy on Wednesday announced it has secured $4.2 million in seed funding—money it plans to use to expand its tech-focused educational offerings and grow its enrollment dramatically.

“We have just more than 50 students now, and we’ll have close to 100 by the end of this year,” Kenzie Academy co-founder and CEO Chok Leang Ooi told IBJ. "And we'll continue to grow beyond that."

Butler University joined the group of investors for this round, and Ooi said he hopes to work with more universities in the future.  

San Francisco-based Kenzie launched its first—and only—school in Indianapolis in September 2017. At that time, it raised an initial $1.6 million in venture capital.

Kenzie Academy’s college-alternative model combines one year of immersive learning with one year of paid work in Kenzie Studio, the company’s tech-consulting subsidiary.

Since its opening here, Kenzie has offered training in software engineering, but this fall also will begin offering “intensive” course work in digital marketing and user experience—UX—design. 

Ooi, who moved to Indianapolis last year to start the school, said the funding also will be used to launch “remote hybrid programs” that will allow students to complete much of their course work online while coming to the Indianapolis campus occasionally for hands-on training.

Though the timing isn’t yet clear, Ooi said there are plans to open other Kenzie Academies in other cities.

“We have had tremendous growth in our first year,” Ooi said. “We have ambitions to grow throughout the Midwest and the South.

“What we look for in terms of opening [a school] is an emerging tech hub,” Ooi added. 

Kenzie is targeting areas away from saturated tech markets on either coast.

“Companies in middle America are crying out for creative solutions to meet their tech training, hiring and development demands,” Ooi said.

This round of funding was led by New York-based ReThink Education, which had previously invested in Kenzie. Learn Start, a fund of San Mateo, California-based Learn Capital, also made a second investment in this round. 

In addition to Butler, new investors for this round are Gratitude Railroad and Kelly Services.

Matt Greenfield, ReThink Education managing partner, will join the Kenzie Academy board. 

“We know the education market is tough to navigate, and we look for organizations grounded in strong pedagogy with opportunity to scale,” Greenfield said in a written statement. “Kenzie Academy fits that model perfectly—and we are excited to be joined by other like-minded investors eager to support the upskilling of individuals who can fill the in-demand jobs of today’s economy.” 

Kenzie Studio will also benefit from the new investment, Ooi said. Kenzie Studio serves various companies looking to outsource or supplement their tech services. Kenzie Studio’s senior technologists oversee junior student consultants, “delivering mid-to-senior level work to clients at an efficient price point,” Ooi said.

Along with Ooi, co-founders of Kenzie are Rehan Hasan and Courtney Spence. Hasan is the former co-founder of Denver-based Galvanize, a co-working and coding school operating in seven U.S. cities. Spence heads San Francisco-based CSpense Group, a creative agency. In addition to running Kenzie, Ooi serves as chairman of New York-based Agility.IO, a 250-person software development shop.

The trio met a few years ago through the Aspen Institute, and the idea for Kenzie crystallized in early 2017. They decided to debut the program in Indianapolis partly because Ooi, a Malaysian-born U.S. citizen, studied computer science at IUPUI. And also because of Indianapolis’ burgeoning tech sector.

“Indianapolis was the perfect location for us to start Kenzie Academy,” Ooi said. “The jobs that we train for and the services we offer are in high-demand here, and that demand is only going to grow.”

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