Marred with the recent news of massive layoffs and a ‘bubble burst’, the education technology or EdTech sector startups are no doubt being severely tested for their resilience. However, there is a silver lining in the midst of the doom and gloom. One such Pune-based EdTech company ‘WPU RISE’ (RISE Digital Learning Pvt Ltd) founded in April 2021 by Gaurav Bhatia and Khyaati Jain is wading through this ‘crowded space’ is upskilling and reskilling bachelors and working professionals by offering curated and specially designed online higher education and industry-relevant diploma, certification programmes and career assistance services.
In the beginning…
Bhatia is a serial entrepreneur and the chief business officer at RISE. He graduated with a B.E in Computer Engineering from the University of Mumbai and subsequently pursued his MBA at INSEAD in 2011. Prior to RISE, Bhatia was the CBO at a high-growth EdTech startup ecosystem in India and was critical to driving their business growth and operations in India. Jain heads the partnerships and operations at RISE. With a Bachelor’s of Mass Communication from Manipal Academy for Higher Education and a Master’s in Public Policy from King’s College London, Jain has worked on education policy, access to education and quality across India, Cambodia, South Africa and the UK.
Says Bhatia, “I met Jain in my previous stint where we were part of a leadership team. Together we took the venture up to series A levels after which we left for this opportunity. When we decided to set up RISE, the idea was that we will build a venture which will solve the employability issue and skill gap issue.”
“Highly ranked universities and the education system overall is struggling with an age-old problem of employability and talent gap. People take up initial jobs only to realise after a year or two that they do not want to pursue their career in that direction. Individuals want to course correct but don’t know how to do it. Those things were primary drivers of what we decided – to build a programme to allow people to upskill and reskill,” said Bhatia.
Bhatia and Jain decided to bring two entities together – the industry and universities – and create a tripartite arrangement where RISE, universities and industry come together to upskill or reskill individuals. Within three months of starting the company, the first programme for reskilling working professionals went live in July 2021.
Jain says, “The problem is not with the 21-year-old but it may be with 18-year-old individuals. We thought about how can we build a workforce which wouldn’t require training once they finish their bachelor’s. We realised that our business model can’t just be limited to working professionals. If we want to solve the problem, we should hit the root which is when the students enter college and university. That’s when our B2B business model with universities came out.”
How much time to spend on building the product and how quickly test its market fit. This was the challenge Bhatia and Jain overcame last year. “Technology and product take time to build. We said lets first get the course products quickly off the ground and let’s see what the market has to tell us. Cost of capital is very important for business and if we fail, we will fail fast. Today we are generating revenue, whatever little it is, but if you do not have revenue then great ideas may fail because by then market changes,” stated Bhatia.
“Our challenge was to attract the right talent. Hiring the right set of people helped us bring our first program out within two months. We kept making changes till we found the product-market fit,” added Bhatia.
Bhatia had learnt hard lessons about perseverance, funding and ‘burn’, and the value of a team with the right culture. He says, “We have built a truly inclusive and diverse team. We hire neurodiverse talent. They all are capable to work and our organisation supports them. This diversity brings the beauty of getting different directions and thoughts and that makes a significant impact on our audience too. Besides, we have no discrimination in pay, etc.”
“We are building a work culture where people are empathetic. We have proper training while onboarding employees and handhold them till they perform better. We asked our employees what values they want to set or think are important and they came up with a list of 7 values for this organisation to thrive. Our next bunch of hires will realise these values have come from employees themselves,” he said.
RISE has partnered with KPMG in India for business analytics, data science, and artificial intelligence and machine learning; with Grant Thornton for finance and accounting, and FinTech; with ThriveDX SaaS for cybersecurity; with Aeon Research for marketing research; and with SRH Mobile University (Germany) for global MBA.
Jain said, “Our partners also thought it’s a good way to train people and identify talent pipelines for themselves in the future. It is largely benefiting the broader ecosystem. To bring this content into universities as well, we built bachelor’s programmes and post-graduate programmes where students have exposure to the industry from day one. We also added an internship component in all our programmes because not all students get such opportunities. Employability enhancement services like making CVs, Linked-in profiles, coaching for a personal interview or group discussions, etc were also launched.”
Identifying industry practitioners
Elaborating on the selection of industry practitioners to deliver experience, Bhatia said, “We identify consulting firms and our programmes are curated jointly, delivered by senior professionals in these consulting teams to avoid variability in the experience of students get. We have an in-house academic team that comprises of people who have taught at universities, who have PhDs and we share our requirements for content delivery from industry and academia perspective.”
“One of the metrics we use for internal assessment is the Net Promoter Score where we look at the rating that the students are giving to us. We have one of the highest scores in the industry, hitting nearly 55 per cent for the last few programmes,” said Bhatia.
University and placements
Says Jain, “Our first two batches of students who started data science and business analytics courses last year June and August respectively, will now be placed and we have already got interests from global companies who want to hire our students.”
We are also working with universities on 2 fronts. First universities want to go digital. They may have the faculty but do they have the capability? Going digital doesn’t mean just taking lectures on an online video platform. It means somebody has to look at what is the users’ learning span, what kind of technical support they require, how to bring students online, etc. We look at the entire gamut of services from technology, digital content, operations, learning aspects and student support.”
•Developing content: Universities specify their domains and RISE team helps faculty in creating new digital programmes for the university. RISE team helps them with technology, digital delivery and resources needed for that.
•Providing content: RISE team also trains the faculty on how to deliver content in the classroom
•Hybrid experience: Post the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, schools, colleges and universities have reopened and hence RISE is providing a hybrid experience to students
•Faculty training programmes: For reskilling students, the faculty also needs to be trained. We identify the jobs with the highest demand, create programs and selectively reach out to people in regions where the traction for our programme is high.
Bhatia and Jain are bullish on the EdTech scenario in India. “We want to start building content in regional languages like Hindi, Marathi, Gujrati etc and start delivering programmes in those languages. We believe language should not barrier to education and want to make our courses and education more accessible to our broader target audiences as well. In long term, RISE team aims to increase access to research for universities. Co-delivering bachelor’s degree is also what RISE is looking at.”
“We will have events with universities and do a lot of OTT and cross-channel branding. We are also building technology to make learning easier for the users with things like gamification, adaptive learning, etc. This technology already exists in the K12 market for children but no one is looking at it for making education fun for adults or who have crossed the age of 18. This also is a gap in the market we want to fill in. Eventually, the goal is to use this tech in universities to make learning fun – make it easier for teachers to deliver content and curriculum to the students,” the founder-duo said.