ApprenNet just hired a new CEO. Here's why that's a big deal - Philly


Apr. 6, 2015 12:16 pm

ApprenNet just hired a new CEO. Here’s why that’s a big deal

Drexel law professor Karl Okamoto has led the online learning company since its founding in 2011. The company's new full-time CEO, Rachel Jacobs, is eyeing the startup's first round of seed funding.

The ApprenNet team. CEO Rachel Jacobs is at bottom center.

(Courtesy photo)

Update: It is with regret that we report Rachel Jacobs died in the Amtrak crash a month after this report was first published.

Rachel Jacobs has her eye on Philly.

Jacobs, 39, the newly-hired CEO of online learning startup ApprenNet, plans to leave her current hometown of Manhattan for Philly, but only once she gets the company to a point where it makes sense for her to move. That means closing the company’s first round of funding and growing the seven-person team.


Rachel Jacobs. (Courtesy photo)

A Detroit native and Swarthmore grad, Jacobs replaced cofounder and former CEO Karl Okamoto. Okamoto is still the chairman of the board but he’s also a full-time law professor at Drexel, and ApprenNet decided they needed to hire someone who could devote more time to the company.


It feels like a big step for the National Science Foundation-backed company, which has been led by Okamoto since its founding in 2011. (ApprenNet has received $1 million total in Small Business Innovation Research grants. Drexel does not own any equity in the startup, cofounder Emily Foote said.)

Jacob’s hire coincides with, as she puts it, the company finding the right product-market fit. ApprenNet had long focused on the legal education industry, where educators used the product to create video-based exercises. But the legal industry isn’t embracing of this type of innovation, Jacobs said. For example, if a law student takes an online class, it doesn’t count toward requirements on a legal transcript in many states, like New York.

“At the end of the day, lawyers aren’t moving online quite as fast as other segments of the market,” Jacobs said in a phone interview last week.

So ApprenNet pivoted to focus on healthcare, higher education and K-12 teacher training. Many of those fields — healthcare, especially — are hands-on and benefit from simulation and video-based learning, Jacobs said. Its customers include Walmart, which is using the product to train its pharmacy technicians, Newark Public Schools and Kaplan Open College. The company charges per exercise per user.

Jacobs was formerly the VP of Strategy and Business Development for edtech company Ascend Learning. She found ApprenNet at a conference while searching for an education solution for Walmart, her client at the time.

“When we saw them, it was like a light went on,” she said.

Other than raising capital, Jacobs plans to focus on building out “deeper employer analytics” for their customers and making a move into high-stakes assessments.

The seven-person team currently works out of the Innovation Center @ 3401 coworking space. Jacobs comes to Philly twice a week to be with the team. She said she’s looking forward to returning to the region because Philly reminds her of her hometown of Detroit: there’s a “hometown pride” both cities have, she said.

Juliana Reyes

Juliana Reyes was's editorial product lead after reporting on the Philadelphia tech scene for four years. She's co-president of the Asian American Journalists Association Philadelphia chapter and a two-time Philadelphia News Award winner for "Community Reporting of the Year." The Bryn Mawr College grad lives in West Philly, likes her food spicy and wears jumpsuits often.

  • Anittah Patrick

    Very excited for the AprenNet team. Great ed tech product and will be fun to see how she can help it grow. Plus, let’s put a stopwatch on how long it takes Rachel to realize Philadelphia crushes NYC and that she should move here pronto. I give her four months!

    • Kirielson

      Trust me, moving away from NYC to Philly will only do good wonders to the psyche.

  • Kirielson

    Hmm, it will be interesting to see how Rachel scales this company.

    • Kirielson

      In what way?

      • Bob

        Did they find her.

        • Kirielson

          I’m confused what happened was she a part of the Amtrak derailing?

          • Ozark5179

            Let Google unconfuse you: Search “Rachel Jacobs Amtrak missing” and you’ll find 25+ news articles…

          • Kirielson

            Okay thank you.

    • Dark_Space

      too soon

    • cthulu_line_one

      I’m with Dark Space. Too soon, given that at least one dimension of this story is a 2 year old missing his mom right now. Also, not particularly clever – let’s chalk this up to poor judgement on at least 2 counts and call it a day right there

  • CQ617

    She was on the AMTRAK train 188. Her coworkers are looking for her at 30th Street this morning. I hope she is okay. Praying for her and her family.

  • Bob

    Shes missing in philly train crash prey for here fam

  • Paladin13

    I understand she is missing at this time after the Amtrak crash in Philadelphia. I will say a prayer for her. I hope she is okay.

  • cgadb9

    Sad to read that Rachel was just identified as one of the persons killed in the Amtrak derailment. My thoughts are with her friends and family.

  • A true feminist power player and a strong advocate for women-owned corporate business enterprise. She will be missed by so many, now that her death has been confirmed. 🙁

    • Small Biz Philly

      Yes, it’s sad to see her go.

  • Corey21215

    When I read about her death just now on the local news the company and her position immediately caught my attention…thoughts and prayers to Ms Jacobs entire family and ApprenNet


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