WeWork — the co-working startup valued at $20 billion with some 200,000 members across 200 locations globally — is continuing with its strategy of expanding into a wide array of adjacent operations to grow its business. Today the company announced that it will be expanding the coding-focused Flatiron School abroad, starting in London this June.
Alongside this, it’s also launching a scholarship program, offering £1 million in fees to people from underrepresented groups in tech to enrol in Flatiron classes, working with existing local groups like AllBright, Code Bar and Women Who Code to spread the word.
This is the Flatiron School’s first move outside of the U.S. for its physical classes — it had already offered online courses internationally before this — and notably it is also WeWork’s first significant educational effort since acquiring the New York startup last October for an undisclosed sum.
Since acquiring Flatiron, WeWork’s chief growth officer Dave Fano — who himself joined WeWork when the company acquired his own startup, building infomation modelling firm Case, heralding the start of the company’s acquisition spree — said that the idea has been to let Flatiron run business as usual, offering a variety of online and in-person coding and related courses. That is now changing as WeWork puts the acquisition to work, so to speak.
Expanding the kinds of services that it offers in European markets specifically is an interesting move for WeWork. When it first opened for business here in London, for example, people hiring out desks in other people’s offices, or working out of dedicated co-working spaces, was already a standard practice.
“There was lots of co-working already, so there was no need to educate the market on it,” Fano said in an interview. Hence, adding in more services and offerings is a way to help differentiate WeWork from the rest of the productivity pack. Education sits alongside a number of other services that WeWork has been developing, from offering all-in, optimised office spaces (complete with the ever-present glass decanter of fruit-infused water in the kitchen) both for individuals and running then on behalf of other companies, through to event planning (by way of its Meetup acquisition), and likely more down the line.
On the other side, this move is also an indication of how Flatiron, which had raised a modest $14 million in funding in its five years of life before getting acquired, is using the acquisition by the well-capitalised WeWork to upsize and compete against the likes of General Assembly and others who have doubled down on international expansion to build out their coding education businesses.
Flatiron School’s London operation will be based out of Finsbury Pavement, one of WeWork’s multiple London locations, and it will kick off with two courses, one a full-time software engineering immersive course that will last 15 weeks; and the other a part-time front-end web developer course that will run 10 weeks.
There have been a lot of efforts, both private and public, to help raise tech literacy among the workforces of the world, as industries and economies hope to train people for the next generation of employment as more legacy roles and processes tip into obsolescence, and all signs point to a more digital, connected and technological future.
Not all of these have been home runs, though, with many programmes failing to connect the dots between learnings new skills and then applying them in actual jobs. And of course there remains a big digital divide between those who are already socially or economically challenged ever getting access to either the training, or the subsequent work opportunities.
The company claims to have a strong success track record for its educational program, at least in terms of completion, if not in actual job-finding.
“In the US, Flatiron School has set the benchmark for programming education with its community-first learning platform, market-aligned open-source curriculum, and outcomes-focused approach to education,” claims Adam Enbar, Flatiron School’s co-founder and CEO. “Since 2012, Flatiron has maintained a 99% graduation rate for its Software Engineering Programs in NYC and more than 2,000 students have graduated from Flatiron School to date, across both the on-campus and online programs. With our new Flatiron London location, we’ll be able to give more people access to attain the skills they need to create their life’s work.”
It’s a small start, but offering £1 million in scholarships alongside the launch can offer at least a small boost in trying to fix that problem. And for WeWork, which has now raised $7.3 billion in funding — including backing from the seemingly bottomless coffers of Softbank’s Vision Fund — a $1 million scholarship fund is small change, so hopefully it prove to be successful and it might consider how it can dole out more.