From left, Arin Lalehzarian, front-end developer, and Daniel Hoffman, lead programmer are Greater Commons teammates with founder Todd McLeod, seen here with his dog Henry, known as the chief morale officer. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz

published on June 7, 2019 - 2:53 PM
Written by Gabriel Dillard

Could a Fresno professor and his small team of programmers revolutionize the online education business?

Todd McLeod, founder and CEO of GreaterCommons, definitely seems to think so — and a growing number of companies and potential investors appear to agree. Offering courses on everything from raising backyard chickens to sexual harassment education and computers, GreaterCommons is growing fast and trying to get the word out about their operation.

According to McLeod, a computer science professor at Fresno City College, he met his team in 2015 at a summer web boot camp that he’d put on, when they were still students. In 2016, they came up the idea of creating a local platform where anyone could teach and take classes on different skills including programming and Microsoft Excel, taking participants from beginning to end.

Since then, they’ve been forging partnerships in town and expanding their reach. In one example, they’ve created a sexual harassment course for small businesses with Fresno law firm Wanger Jones Helsley PC. They’ve also partnered with diagnostic reading and math assessment firm Let’s Go Learn to create a course on how to implement special ed policy in schools.

Now, they’re working on a series of courses to train job candidates for participating companies. These classes, McLeod said, can teach candidates about the business and the duties entailed with a job. First, employers post the job announcement, and then list the courses necessary. Once a candidate completes the classes, they become eligible for a position.

This not only prepares the student, but also shows initiative to the employer.

“And so what we realized when we did that—and I think what most people quickly realize—is education exists to create better employees,” McLeod said. “How do we use education to create better employees, and get employers better candidates and better hires?”

Their aim is to also save students money, as 73% of people of college graduates go into a different career from their area of study. And while the startup may be in need of funds, they’ve gained the attention of the Lumina Foundation, a leading promoter of postsecondary education in the country, with an endowment of more than $1 billion. Recently, they submitted their plan to be the next big idea in a search by Lumina, becoming one of two winners for recognition.

Meanwhile, McLeod is hopeful that it will be a source of opportunity wherever it’s applied, but he’s especially optimistic about what it can do for Fresno and the rest of the Central Valley.

“Not saying we have all the solutions for all the world’s problems, but we’ve got a platform where people can learn better skills, becoming better in their own life… and your employees can become better employees.”

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