Marked by the recent news of massive layoffs and a “bubble bursting”, startups in the education technology or EdTech sector are undoubtedly under severe strain for their resilience. However, there is a silver lining amid 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 perfecting and to retrain singles and working professionals by offering curated and purpose-built online higher education and industry-relevant degrees, certification programs, and career support services.
Bhatia is a serial entrepreneur and the business manager of RISE. He earned a BE in Computer Engineering from the University of Mumbai and later pursued his MBA at INSEAD in 2011. Prior to RISE, Bhatia was the CBO of a high-growth EdTech startup ecosystem in India and was key to boost the growth of their business and operations in India. Jain leads partnerships and operations at RISE. With a BA in Mass Communication from the Manipal Academy for Higher Education and an MA in Public Policy from King’s College London, Jain has worked on education policy, access to education and quality in India, Cambodia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Said Bhatia, “I met Jain during my previous stint where we were part of a management team. Together we took the adventure up to Series A levels after which we left for this opportunity. When we decided to create RISE, the idea was to create a company that would solve the problem of employability and the skills gap.”
“Highly ranked universities and the education system as a whole are grappling with a centuries-old problem of employability and talent shortages. People take a first job only to realize after a year or two that they don’t want to pursue their career in that direction. Individuals of course want to correct but do not know how to do it. Those things were the main drivers of what we decided – to create a program for people to upskill and retrain,” Bhatia said.
Identifying the problem
Bhatia and Jain decided to bring together two entities – industry and academia – and create a tripartite agreement where RISE, academia and industry come together to upskill or retrain individuals. Within three months of starting the business, the first retraining program for working professionals was launched in July 2021.
Jain says: “The problem is not with the 21-year-old, but it may be with the 18-year-old individuals. We thought about how to build a workforce that wouldn’t need training once they finished their bachelor’s degree. We realized that our business model could not be limited to working professionals. If we want to solve the problem, we have to get to the root, that is to say when students enter college and university. This is when our B2B business model with universities came out.
How much time to spend building the product and how quickly to test its suitability for the market. This is the challenge that Bhatia and Jain took on last year. “The technology and the product take time to develop. We said, let’s quickly launch the course products and see what the market has to tell us. The cost of capital is very important for businesses and if we fail, we will fail quickly. Today we are generating even minimal revenue, but if you don’t have revenue, great ideas can fail because by then the market is changing,” Bhatia said.
“Our challenge was to attract the right talent. Hiring the right group of people helped us release our first program in two months. We kept making changes until we found the product-market fit,” Bhatia added.
Bhatia had learned hard lessons about perseverance, funding and burnout, and the value of a team with the right culture. He says, “We have built a truly inclusive and diverse team. We are recruiting neurodiverse talent. They are all able to work and our organization supports them. This diversity brings the beauty of having different directions and thoughts and it also has a significant impact on our audience. Also, we have no wage discrimination, etc.
“We are building a work culture where people are empathetic. We have proper training when onboarding employees and support them until they perform better. We asked our employees what values they wanted to establish or felt were important and they came up with a list of 7 values for this organization to thrive. Our next batch of recruits will realize that these values came from the employees themselves,” he said.
RISE has partnered with KPMG in India for business analytics, data science, 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 a Global MBA.
Jain said: “Our partners also thought it was a good way to train people and identify talent pools for themselves in the future. This largely benefits the wider ecosystem. To bring this content to universities as well, we have created bachelor’s and postgraduate programs where students are exposed to the industry from day one. We have also added an internship component to all of our programs as not all students have such opportunities. Employability enhancement services such as CV creation, Linked-in profiles, coaching for personal interview or group discussions, etc. were also launched. »
Identify industry practitioners
Elaborating on the selection of industry practitioners to offer experience, Bhatia said: “We identify consultancies and our programs are co-curated, delivered by senior professionals from these consultancy teams to avoid variability in the student experience. We have an in-house academic team that includes people who have taught at universities, who have PhDs, and we share our content delivery requirements from an industry and academia perspective.
“One of the metrics we use for internal evaluation is the Net Promoter Score, where we look at how students rate us. We have one of the highest scores in the industry, coming in at nearly 55 % for the latest programs,” Bhatia said.
University and internships
Says Jain, “Our first two batches of students who started data science and business analytics courses last year in June and August respectively, will now be placed and we have already attracted interest from global companies. who want to hire our students.”
We are also working with universities on 2 fronts. The first universities want to go digital. They may have the ability, but do they have the ability? Going digital doesn’t just mean taking classes on an online video platform. That means someone has to look at how long users learn, what kind of technical support they need, how to get students online, etc. We look at the full range of services from technology, digital content, operations, learning aspects and student support. »
• Develop content: Universities specify their subject areas and the RISE team helps professors create new digital programs for the university. The RISE team helps them with the technology, digital delivery and resources needed for this.
• Content delivery: the RISE team also trains faculty on how to deliver content in class
• Hybrid experience: After the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, schools, colleges and universities have reopened and RISE is therefore offering a hybrid experience for students
• Faculty training programs: for retraining students, faculty should also be trained. We identify the most in-demand jobs, create programs, and selectively reach out to people in areas where our program traction is high.
Bhatia and Jain are bullish on the EdTech scenario in India. “We want to start creating content in regional languages like Hindi, Marathi, Gujrati, etc. and start broadcasting programs in these languages. We believe that language should not be a barrier to education and we also want to make our courses and education more accessible to our wider target audiences. In the long term, the RISE team aims to increase access to research for universities. Co-awarding a bachelor’s degree is also what RISE is considering. »
“We’ll be hosting events with universities and doing a lot of OTT and cross-channel branding. We’re also developing technology to make learning easier for users with things like gamification, adaptive learning, etc. This technology K12 already exists in the market for kids but no one is considering it to make education fun for adults or who have gone through the This is also a gap in the market that we want to fill. The goal is to use this technology in universities to make learning fun – making it easier for teachers to deliver content and programs to students,” the founding duo said.