Disrupting the traditional MBA is perhaps the most tried, tested, and modified edtech startup pitch. And rightly so: business school is damn expensive and largely reserved for a select group of people who have the time and money to invest in elite education.
While no company has fully cracked the code yet, Stoa School is out of phase. The Goa-based startup has raised millions to bring an unaccredited, high-quality alternative to business higher education in India as part of a wider revival of the country’s growing startup scene. The startup’s initial raise, a funding round of $ 1.5 million, includes Udemy co-founder and Maven Gagan Biyani, Better Capital founder Vaibhav Domkundwar, co-founder of Teachable Ankur Nagpal, NotBoring Media founder Packy McCormick, Dunce Capital investor John Danner and Zivame co-founder Richa Kar.
“People want to know more about startups and maybe move from a job to a corporate job,” said the co-founder Raj kunkolienkar, which estimates that workforce demands for Indian startups have increased by 40% over the past year. Its co-founder, Aditya Kulkarni, added that the startup is positioning itself “as a means of [fill] start-up jobs, because not everyone is used to “what is CAC, what is GTM and what is LTV”.
The initial idea that ultimately led to the formation of Stoa, according to Kulkarni, was the fact that students in India don’t have many options to pursue business training – unless they are able to enter the Indian School of Business (ISB) or relocate. in the USA. At the same time, Kunkolienkar was running a Lambda school for India, but realizing that “the funding and collection infrastructure in India is not sophisticated enough to run ISAs on a large scale.”
Today, Stoa offers a six-month part-time program, StoaMBA, which combines relevant technology skills with business fundamentals for all participants. The majority of live programming takes place on weekends via cohort learning, business case hackathons, and core lectures with asynchronous learning taking place throughout the week. On average, students spend 12 hours per week, three weeks per month with the program.
“Our idea is to give a kind of full 360-degree overview of the different areas of activity,” Kunkolienkar said. He estimates that over the course of 24 weeks, around 30% of the program focuses on foundational skills such as how best to work with data and how to research better. The remaining time is reserved for in-depth dives into specific in-demand roles, such as digital marketing roles or product strategy advice.
The startup admits that it is not yet on a large scale to help all Indian startups fill empty sales roles, so it is currently focusing on training generalists in the world of operations and sales. StoaMBA is currently priced at $ 3,400 with the majority of students paying up front. Stoa has partnerships that allow it to offer EMI-based funding options, in which students can pay on a monthly basis.
In order to truly become an alternative to the traditional MBA, Stoa will need to focus on program quality assurance, measurable results, and continued proof that an unaccredited program can make a difference in the lives of students.
Understanding the Unaccredited Mindset
Being the first layer between job seekers and their first tech job may help Stoa avoid competing with bigger players, but that opportunity could also be his biggest challenge.
Between Cohorts 1 and 2, only 40 out of 100 people opted for the startup’s career services, of which 38 made the transition to a new role. While the co-founders focused more on the success of those who opted rather than why 60% didn’t, the imbalance could illustrate other market forces. Later, the startup is experimenting with creating a different program for those who want to undertake a serious career transition, those who want to learn the basics and better understand technology, or those who want to acquire unique skills to hone in their current roles. .
“A lot of people who apply to Stoa are looking for clarity,” Kulkarni said. “You want some change, but the first step in assessing that is whether I even want to make the change or not. “
While anecdotes and happy students can show the value of online learning, every bootcamp ends up coming to a place where they need to prove ROI in order to scale. Flockjay, a bootcamp startup that helps laid-offs and job seekers get into tech, recently cut half of its own employees as part of a larger pivot to a B2B SaaS platform. The Lambda School, which has juggled lawsuits, layoffs and fundraising for the past few years, has come under scrutiny for shoddy marketing tactics regarding its placement rates.
The startup must also step up its efforts in terms of diversity, especially since it focuses largely on accessibility. The co-founders currently estimate that 75% of its students are men and 25% are women. As the representation of women in Indian startups declines due to the cost of maternity leave and the inherent biases, Stoa has the opportunity to challenge the status quo – not strengthen it. Her hat table appears to be largely male, so having more female representation behind her might help with the strategy. Kulkarni said Stoa offered scholarships to women, but said “there is definitely something to be done.”
Finally, Stoa is another example of the growing difference between entrepreneurs who believe the future is in unaccredited courses and those who believe accreditation is the only way to gain legitimacy within higher education.
“We are a six-month degree, and Indian regulators will never accept that kind of degree or degree,” Kunkolienkar said. “There are very specific rules regarding what is accredited here in India. Stoa says he’s determined not to go the “graduation route” because he wants to maintain control over the brand, the program, and the ability to change and iterate quickly.
As a result, the Stoa brand will be important for its long term health. In other words, he may be able to give a seal of approval to a solid number of people, but without the approval of regulators, will hiring managers care about that seal?
“India is obviously a society [and] a culture that values accreditation tremendously, but I think they have a great opportunity to rebuild what an MBA does, means and offers for the whole country, ”said Ankur Nagpal, founder of Vibe Capital and investor in the startup. “I think they did brand building and [developed an] alumni network well enough to grow into an ambitious brand for connoisseurs.
On Deck and Y Combinator have shown that it is possible to evolve Signal as a Service to some extent, as both programs bring notes of prestige and community to those who graduate. While accelerators are for insiders who can understand the nuances of business, Stoa believes he can win over those who want to enter the startup ecosystem, according to the co-founders.
But getting a tech job can sometimes be more difficult and complex than starting a business. Stoa’s next steps, backed by business, will hopefully change that by removing traditional gatekeepers and teaching by example.