Sramana Mitra: Do you work with a lot of for-profit colleges?
Karen Francis: We work with any content providers. Some people are not institutions in the way that you and I would think of it.
Sramana Mitra: Your marketing service is for any kind of online or educational program?
Karen Francis: Yes. On the Academix Direct site, we work with any post-secondary institutions whether it’s traditional brick-and-mortar, online, or blended – which most of them are. Even the ones you think are traditional have online components now. The CourseTalk site is all online.
Sramana Mitra: Because that’s an affiliate kind of business model?
Karen Francis: It used to be focused. Some people say, “Why don’t you just put every course in there?” That’s a totally different business model. That’s not really what we’re doing. I think having an online course catalog is clear. Everybody gets it. We’re able to be global.
Sramana Mitra: Last segment of questions. If you were to start a company today, what are some white spaces or opportunities on your radar that need addressing – that you know either from customer conversations or industry observations?
Karen Francis: As you mentioned before, the cost of college is very high – almost prohibitive. It’s not sustainable and something ought to change. We all understand that our society needs to be more educated. We are now becoming a knowledge society more than ever before. We need to find a way to connect what people want to do and give them the knowledge tools to be able to make better decisions. Today, that’s so fragmented. There are guidance counselors, college counselors, mentors, and next-door neighbors. We’re not approaching it in a common or unified way. That is a big problem. We’re spending, as a society, a lot of money that may or may not be addressing what people’s goals are. In many ways, you’re tapping in to entrepreneurs. I’ll say we need a similar way to tap in to other groups and help them identify what it is that they’re going after and what’s required to get there. With technology now, we should be able to do that.
When I went to college, I was an Economics major. I wasn’t even sure what that meant when I started. You could show me today, “You could be a banker. This is what it looks like.” You can use technology to help a person envision it in a way that wasn’t possible before. We’re still not doing that well. In the education space, I think that’s an opportunity area.
I’ll show my bias here. I also think whoever can figure out how to really help women and girls understand the opportunity in STEM and capitalize on it is a wonderful opportunity. There’re so many opportunities there for women who are so influential in so many areas in the world to understand that they can do this and that this is something that they should participate in. So far, most of what I see are non-profit, policy-like, aspirational institutions.
Sramana Mitra: There’s no specific program at any level that is focused on women in technology. Is that what you’re saying?
Karen Francis: I think there are hundreds of groups who have that as their goal but it’s different than saying to an entrepreneur, “Come up with the idea and the product and services and fix this problem.” It’s slightly different.