A mouse pad showing The Grand Challenge Equations: San Diego Supercomputer Center .

The Grand Challenge Equations: San Diego Supercomputer Center CC-BY Duncan Hull

There’s a gathering herd of startups focused on making education better, faster, cheaper: Startups selling to teachers and startups selling to learners and startups selling to parents and startups selling to colleges, universities and K12 schools. Whew!

What makes Lumen stand out in this crowd?

For starters: Lumen’s approach is getting strong validation from customers—we signed four statewide deals this year in MD, OR, VA and WA alongside all the other customers we are working with—and validation from investors—we were selected to receive round-sized funding from the Gates Foundation’s highly competitive $20 million Next Generation Courseware Challenge program (7 applicants will be funded out of 100+ invited).

A big part of Lumen’s success is a business model that is almost too good to be true: It seems like black magic, but it’s entirely real. It works like this:

Lumen curates and creates freely available, openly licensed educational resources to make ready-to-use “courseware”, focusing especially on the high-enrollment classes every student takes. Our customers—colleges and universities (and sometimes K12 schools and professional development programs)—adopt and adapt Lumen’s stewarded open courseware to replace commercial materials like textbooks that are so expensive, students all too often go without, or have to buy, beg, borrow, rent, or yes, even steal.

The results are simple and dramatic

A. Students save from 75-100% on textbook costs and get full access to the learning materials they need to succeed from the first day of class.

B. Faculty, teachers and instructors get greater control over learning materials and no longer have to worry that students are unprepared simply because they cannot afford textbooks.

C. Institutions lower the cost of education without spending more money, while also making it easier for their students to learn and earn degrees and credentials.

D. The courseware itself improves over time based on outcomes from real use in live classes.

In fact, the only losers are the proprietary textbook publishers that have been selling about $16 billion worth of textbooks to US undergraduates every year at prices that have outpaced the rate of inflation by 3x.

Founded by two folks with long pedigrees in open education: Portland’s own Kim Thanos and David Wiley, a prime actor in the open content movement, Lumen is making Portland its home. Here’s to the new equation where doing good is doing good business!