In 2004, a group of university CIOs and CFOs, who were frustrated by working with traditional software vendors, got together to build financial software. Supported by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, and a grant from the Mellon Foundation, the consortium of universities formed the Kuali Foundation.
The Kuali Foundation was incorporated in 2006 as a nonprofit organization with a mission of finding a way to leverage the resources among colleges, universities, and companies to build better software to serve higher education’s unique needs. The goal of keeping more money in the mission of the institutions themselves was always at the forefront of every decision they made.
When the model for the financial system within Kuali was successful, the Research Administration departments of member institutions decided to adopt the Kuali method and formed a partnership for Research.
The community of schools continued to grow over time and, at Kuali’s 10-year anniversary, reached a crossroads. The Kuali Foundation called two, face-to-face meetings of the entire community and concluded that the biggest impediments to growth were speed of development, a great user experience, evolving cloud software-as-a-service (SaaS) models, and the need for a professional marketing & sales organization to grow adoption. The community determined that the solution was to invest in a for-profit company that would focus on design, speed of delivery, and sales & marketing. A company could scale by recruiting top talent, diversifying the client base, putting things into the cloud for new revenue streams, and securing additional investment in a way that the institutional collaboration model with the foundation wasn’t able to do.
Joel Dehlin, a long-time Chief Technology and Product Officer, had reached a point in his career where he wanted to start his own company. He recruited a number of developers to join him at his home where they’d brainstorm ideas on what they could do to improve higher education. A mission-driven man by nature, Joel knew that he wanted the new venture to mean something to higher education, and not just be a way to make a quick buck.
Executives of the Foundation contacted Joel about the idea of creating and leading a new company. The Foundation was looking for a partner that really valued and was willing to listen to the community, who was more open to that input than was typical, and who would focus on a great customer experience. And that matched what Joel had set out to accomplish with his crew of developers. They wanted to create a mission-driven company with a culture that valued customer and employee experience above all else.
And so in 2014, the Kuali Foundation invested in this young company.
Kuali set out to take on the mission of the Foundation as its own: providing value to higher education while enabling institutions to keep more money in their mission of educating and doing great research.
Kuali used part of the investment to purchase some of the assets of rSmart, an original for-profit contributor to the Kuali community. The most important part of that deal was joining forces with Chris Coppola, a long-time community member and CEO of rSmart, who became COO of the new company.
Kuali immediately started hiring and began to deliver services to the Kuali Foundation member institutions. With the endorsement of the Kuali Foundation Board, as well as the Financials and Research communities, the company took the publicly available open source Kuali software and re-issued it under the AGPL3 license. It also began hosting it in the cloud.
Kuali focuses on five product categories: Financials, Research, Curriculum and Catalog Management, Build (no-code applications), and Ready (business continuity). Kuali’s modular approach allows institutions to extend the life of their current systems without required large, “rip-and-replace” suite implementations.
Kuali, the Kuali Foundation, and the active community of institutions of higher learning continue to work together to identify needs, enhance existing software and develop new solutions for the betterment of higher education, and that will continue to be the driving force moving forward.
The word Kuali means wok in Malaysian. A wok is the humble, yet essential tool for the successful kitchen—just like higher ed software systems and vendors should be.