History of Blackboard Inc., a robust history in education.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, individuals can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Meade
Blackboard was formed by the joining of two companies. CourseInfo LLC, a course management system company founded by Stephen Gilfus while at Cornell University, and Blackboard LLC, founded by Michael Chasen and Matthew Pittinsky. Originally the Blackboard company began as a consulting firm contracting to the non-profit IMS Global Learning Consortium developing elearning specifications. CourseInfo was the most popular Course Management System in use at the time. In 1998, the two companies combined to become known as Blackboard Inc.
The original company that developed the world’s most popular Learning Management System was CourseInfo, formed in late 1996- early 1997 via a partnership agreement between Dan Cane and Stephen Gilfus. Early on Dan Cane had began developing web based scripts for professor Cindy Van Ness, at Cornell University, for her Statistics class. This activity was mostly driven by Dr. Van Ess’s desire for bringing technology in the classroom and Dan’s creativity with new technologies on the web. At this time there is a famous quote from Bill Gates technical assistant saying “Cornell is wired”. As one of the 5 supercomputer centers holding up ARPANET- the precursor underpinnings of the Internet – Cornell was on the bleeding edge of email, web and technology usage.
Dan Cane and Stephen Gilfus met as they attended the same undergraduate school at Cornell. In fact, Gilfus was a teacher’s administrator at the time for Cornell’s entrepreneurship studies and was assisting Professor Deborah Streeter with her business plan writing classes. Dan Cane and Stephen Gilfus met as Dan was a student in one of the classes Gilfus was administering and that year Cane won an award for a business plan call “EleFun” based on an educational website business model.
Earlier that year Gilfus had also won an award from Cornell for his work in his business planning and consulting class. During the same time Gilfus assembled an undergraduate team and launched the Cornell Entrepreneur Organization a student organization focused on connecting successful entrepreneurs and business and engineering students in order to foster new business opportunities and relationships. To this day Gilfus is an advisory member to Cornell’s entreprenuership program. Cane approached Gilfus based on his successes at Cornell and the two joined forces to develop “CourseInfo – ‘Making Education Easier’” into a platform for course based websites.
The CourseInfo Histoy is robust in its roots at Cornell University and its involvement in Cornell’s entrepreneurship program. A link to an article on the companies Cornell University roots can be found here at
A spin-off from KPMG, Blackboard LLC. began as a consulting firm contracting to the non-profit Global Learning Consortium. Some say that Blackboard LLC. was first funded by securing a $1.5M on a contract that KPMG did not want to fulfill. The contract was to work with EDUCOM, now EDUCAUSE, on their National Learning Infrastructure Initiative, now ELI , as the primary contractor t0 the IMS Global Consortiumdeveloping elearning standards for web based learning applications. Micheal Chasen and Matthew Pittinsky where associate consultants at the firm at the time and cut a deal with then KPMG divison Vice President Greg Baroni to secure the contract and then wheel their chairs and computers out of the [www.kpmg.com KPMG] office to a local brownstone to start the company. In return Greg Baroni received stock in the company.
The two companies met each other when they bumped into each other at a conference in Washington, DC. At the time the two organizations where seeking funding and thought that they might be able to obtain a grant for their businesses via a program that the US Government was doing in adaptive testing. Shortly after the two teams met together to discuss the opportunities in joining the teams. The combined company became known as Blackboard Inc. The CourseInfo, Ithaca team moved to Washington DC to join in on the new company located at 1111, 19th Street and Blackboard Inc. was formed.
Shortly after the merger the Blackboard LLC. team, after several attempts at trying to create an industry viable prototype and product acquesed product development and strategy to Gilfus and Cane. Cane led Product Development efforts while Gilfus led Sales/Marketing and Product Strategy,
The new companies product platform was announced as Blackboard’s CourseInfo and relased along with a free version for instructors and students to discover, rebranded Blackboard.com, The orignial Blackboard team essentially dumped all of its windows based technologyproducts, including the IMS prototype they had built with the consortium, and all of its windows based development staff. The CourseInfo brand was dropped in 2000 in order to further refine the Blackboard brand.
As Blackboard’s corporate strategist Gilfus developed programs that fostered sales, facilitated partnerships, and developed key industry relationships. As a software designer, and through interactions with leading educators, he aligned the company’s product development organization to the technical and pedagogical needs of educators by developing the companies product strategy and road map. His efforts lead to innovative and inventive products in the course management, content management, content repository and distribution and community/portal categories. In addition, Gilfus transformed the Blackboard product line and the company into a partner friendly platform by introducing Blackboards Building Blocks, aligning the companies platform with educational technology standards (IMS) and facilitating the development of a Blackboard SCORM 1.2 Player with the ADL Co-labs. Mr. Gilfus has maintained a reputation for being an educational innovator and visionary.
Gilfus left in 2008 as he saw the Blackboard Companies grow into an acquisition model, and no longer a company rich with internal technology innovation.