WeWork is rapidly expanding the Flatiron School.
In the six months since the Manhattan coding school was acquired by WeWork, it has spawned locations in Washington, D.C., Brooklyn, and London. Now, WeWork is opening a fourth Flatiron School location, this time in Houston.
The Flatiron School will sponsor a Facebook Bootcamp at the new location, with Facebook covering the cost of a 15-week coding bootcamp for an entire class. The two companies are working with local organizations like Houston Area Urban League and BakerRipley to help find students for the free program.
Founded in 2012, the Flatiron School was “designed to turn you into a web developer” in 12 weeks for a fraction of the cost of a traditional degree. Up until it was acquired by WeWork in October, the school had one location. “You can’t understate the complexity inherent in literally the logistics of opening and running physical locations,” says Flatiron School CEO Adam Enbar. “That’s obviously something that WeWork is phenomenal at.”
Part of the reason the school has waited to grow its footprint is because of its focus on quality education and accessibility. Getting good teachers, while also keeping classes within financial reach for less affluent populations, is near impossible, says Enbar. “If we really want to be able to scale, there’s only one answer to that and it’s technology,” he says.
The company spent two years investing in building a digital platform called Learn.co, which offers online classes aimed at connecting students with tutors, teachers, and each other as a way of getting them to finish the program. Flatiron School launched online courses in 2015.
Can Education Scale?
Though WeWork has extensive experience opening new locations around the world–the company has 321 office locations in 64 cities–some are skeptical that educational institutions can be scaled quickly.
“The reason that is it was so successful is because it was focused on New York,” says Juha Mikkola, cofounder of the Florida developer bootcamp Wyncode Academy, of Flatiron. “They were foregoing physical expansion.”
Building up networks with local employers and potential students takes time, he says. He also says this kind of expansion has been a death knell for others, like DevBootcamp, which was acquired by Kaplan in 2014 and shut down three years later. In that instance, the company told its students that it was unable to find a business model to sustain accessible quality education–the same goal Enbar laid out.
But Enbar thinks there’s a key difference between what happened with DevBootcamp and what will happen for Flatiron School. He says that Flatiron and WeWork are both very focused on fostering communities that are relevant to locals. Flatiron hires teachers locally. (“We would never scale ourselves beyond our ability to hire great teachers,” he says.) The company’s technology platform Learn.co is built in part to assist teachers, not just online, but also in person, giving them ways of connecting with students outside the classroom.
Furthermore, the school designs curricula with the regional market in mind. Enbar says his school can also leverage WeWork’s existing relationships with businesses in the markets Flatiron is expanding into. Finally, he says, WeWork is extremely supportive and understands the cash-intensive nature of the education business.
That last point is crucial given that WeWork, by any measure, is not short on funds. As it continues to grow, the company took a $4.4 billion investment from SoftBank last August.
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Wyncode Academy as the Wyncode School.