Technology Helps To Even The Score

Company makes education accessible

Many of today’s high school and middle school students can access the Internet from their classrooms, which makes “surfing the Web” a popular pastime for teens. Unfortunately, inner-city students have less access to computers and, therefore, to college preparatory courses and information. Achieva College Prep Programs Inc., a San Mateo, California-based company, is looking to close that section of the digital divide.

Founded in December 1996 by Carlos Watson, 31, president and CEO; Jeff Livingston, 30, vice president of corporate strategy; and Carolyn Watson, 30, vice president of Centers, Achieva, with 2000 revenues of approximately $5.4 million, has created a comprehensive online college prep service targeting middle and high school students. From the 30-hour interactive, multimedia online courses, students take away strategies and tools that help them improve their academic performance, score higher on standardized tests, and gain acceptance to college.

To reach those students, Achieva partners with schools, especially those with at-risk and underserved students. Course fees are about $30 per student and are covered by more than 60 of the largest school districts in the country, including Miami, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and San Francisco.

Carlos Watson, who graduated cum laude from Harvard University and later from Stanford Law School, Livingston, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, and Carolyn Watson, who graduated with honors from Hampton University, are passionate about educating today’s youth.

Each contributed $50,000 from their own savings to start Achieva. The money was used for a down payment on an office, the production of course materials, and marketing. About two years later, Achieva’s innovative program attracted a handful of notable angel investors: Audrey McLean, a Silicon Valley mentor capitalist, Joe Kraus, co-founder of Excite, and Frank Quattrone of Credit Suisse-First Boston, to name a few. Together, the angels ponied up about $3 million, enough to help Achieva further develop its online course offerings and hire employees.

In February, Achieva raised $22 million in its fourth round of funding. A portion of this will be used to expand the company’s program into more school districts. By the end of 2001, the company expects to be serving more than 100,000 students nationwide.

“These days, just because you have a good business model doesn’t mean you will get funded,” says Issac Vaughn, partner in the Palo Alto, California, law firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati. “I think Achieva’s founders have done a great job of convincing investors that this is a viable business.”  

Achieva College Prep Programs Inc., 2121 South El Camino Road, Bldg. A-100, San Mateo, CA 94403; 800-566-5030; www.achieva.com.

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