Almost getting shut down by government interference just might be the best thing to ever happen to Bitmaker Labs.
Just weeks ago, the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU) told the up-and-coming coding education startup to undergo government regulation or go dark. The public outcry that ensued has earned the bootcamp tons of press and more than 400 new followers on Twitter.
“We’ve gotten a lot of attention from people who’d never heard about us before,” said cofounder Matt Gray. “The signups have been overwhelming again, and we look forward to expanding in the near future.”
Under the 2005 Private Career Colleges Act, programs that cost more than $1,000 or last for more than 40 hours are legally private colleges. (Bitmaker Labs lasts for nine weeks and costs $9,000.) While the company originally agreed to work with the MTCU to undergo regulation at great cost to their business model, it found out on Thursday that it was eligible for a face-saving exception.
“It turns out that how we’re structured, and the fact that most of our students come in with some basic coding skills, we were actually able to qualify for an exemption under Professional Development and therefore we’re allowed to operate,” said Gray. “We got that exemption approved on Friday and opened the school back up to students on Friday afternoon. A lot of them were able to spend Canada Day celebrating.”
The biggest lesson Bitmaker Labs learned, said Gray, was one of sticking to its guns.
“Our lawyers told us, ‘Shut your mouths, don’t say anything about the investigation, just tell people the site is under construction,’” he said. “It turns out that going against that judgement, scary as it was, worked out all right.”
It certainly helped that Bitmaker Labs had thousands of supports online ready to rally to their cause.
"I could have never predicted the response we’d get on social media,” said Gray. “There were just so many people who were outraged and wanted to see our model come back to life.”
Next week, Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities Brad Duguid will make an appearance at Bitmaker Labs to answer questions. Far from the villain of this story, Gray said Bitmaker Labs owes its happy ending to his support.
“Brad really wanted to see us get back to what we do best,” he said. “The Ontario government really helped us clarify and resolve this transitional situation.
“In Chinese, the word for crisis is the same word as for opportunity, and that really rang true with this scenario,” added Gray. “The [Bitmaker] team, students, mentors, our community, and even the government, really stepped up to the plate. It was an unbelievable thing to witness and be part of.”
Photo via Bitmaker Labs on Facebook.