Aerospace giant Boeing is teaming up with Kirkland, Wash.-based WestRiver Group to lead a $32 million Series B investment round in Silicon Valley’s Singularity University.
Singularity University announced the investment this morning. Silicon Valley Bank, TAL Education Group, Mukita, and PeopleFund also participated. SU said the new round will support, “the worldwide expansion of SU’s programs, and the development and scaling of its digital learning offerings.” That includes more digital media partnerships, such as its work with NBC on the forthcoming series The Awesome Show, as well as doing more to support companies in its startup portfolio.
Defining what Singularity University actually is can be challenging. While it uses the language of higher education (“co-chair,” “faculty,” “alumni,” and yes, “university”), its main business appears to be holding seminars and doing training for executives, corporations and organizations. In many ways, Singularity University looks more like a modern iteration of a think tank, with paid events and programs, than a traditional degree-granting institution. (For its part, Boeing described SU in its announcement as a “global learning and innovation institute.”)
However, SU also has its fair share of critics. Bloomberg Businessweek today reports allegations of theft and discrimination at SU, and the withdrawal of financial support by Google leading SU to suspend its GSP, or Global Solutions Program, last year. According to the article, “alumni say for-profit Singularity is becoming just another organizer of conferences and executive seminars.”
Boeing, which invested through its Boeing HorizonX Ventures, appears to taking its involvement in SU even further than the investment.
In a statement, Boeing said it will explore customized educational programs for its employees and may add Boeing technical experts to SU’s faculty. “SU shares our commitment to continuous learning that empowers people to solve complex, global challenges; and their work with transformative technologies represent potential game changers in the way we develop as individuals and work together as teams,” said Bethany Tate Cornell, Boeing’s vice president for leadership, learning, and organizational capability.
“At SU, we see that the world’s biggest problems are also often the biggest business opportunities,” said SU CEO Rob Nail, “So we are extremely excited to partner with companies like Boeing that have the capabilities to make a true difference at scale.”
Singularity University was founded in 2008 by futurists Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis, and emphasizes what it calls the power of “exponential technologies.” As part of the investment announcement, SU said that Diamandis was moving into the role of executive founder and would remain on the board, while WestRiver founder and CEO Erik Anderson would replace Diamandis as SU’s chairman. Boeing’s Cornell will also join SU’s board of directors.
SU has attracted a number of high-profile experts to its faculty, such as clean energy authority and science-fiction author Ramez Naam, entrepreneur Naveen Jain, futurist Paul Saffo, and “space tourist” Anousheh Ansari.
SU’s announcement did not include a total of funding raised, including the latest $32 million round. But a company spokesperson told GeekWire that “preferred financing,” which it defines as Series A and Series B combined, is $54 million to date.