Qatar-Based Metis Is All About Empowering Students In Their Academic Journeys
Metis is a student-driven, collaborative degree planner that empowers students to extract the maximum value from their university years. The system is designed for an elective-based university curriculum where students have to pick courses for their upcoming semesters that can fulfill their degree requirements. As a result, the interactive, context-aware interface allows students to visualize and plan their upcoming semesters, while also enabling university advisors to access a complete student profile, guide their students and identify students who are at risk of a late graduation. In addition, college administrators can manage program requirements with what is billed as the industry's first interactive program editor.
"Our course recommendation system lets students discover courses from the university's catalog that aligns with their degree requirements, interests and career goals," says Sabih Bin Wasi, cofounder and CEO of Metis. Wasi hails from Pakistan and graduated last year with B.S in Computer Science with a Minor in Business Administration (Entrepreneurship), and his thesis focused on machine learning application in the area of social media analytics, from Carnegie Mellon University Qatar (CMUQ). He recalls when he moved to Doha to pursue his college studies, leaving his friends and family behind, he wanted to make the best out of his college experience and maximize his learning for the next four years. "Every semester I would choose five courses for each semester, and it was hard to know if these choices fit well in my context," he remembers. "Available planning tools were pen and paper and/or Excel sheets. There was no student-centric degree-planning tool that I could use. So, I decided to build one."
Wasi notes how degree planning is often complicated in colleges that follow an elective-based curriculum. "That applies to many universities all over the world, including Qatari universities and Education City branch campuses," he explains. "Surprisingly, only one-third of the students graduate on time, leading to an estimated loss of $60,000 per late-graduate. Various studies show that better academic planning can improve on-time graduation, especially in universities where thousands of courses are offered each semester, degree requirements are hard to comprehend, and hundreds of students are assigned to one college advisor."
Wasi says that when starting up, their first challenge was to validate whether Metis would be bringing significant value to the college community. "We wanted to make sure our efforts and investments were worth it," he says. "We addressed this concern in two ways." First, they were able to bring Mark Stehlik, former Associate Dean of Education at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, on board as their project advisor. "Mark has more than two decades of experience in academic advising. Getting him excited about our solution meant that we were doing something useful that addressed the pains of existing advising process." Second, they conducted a pilot study in their college to measure students' interest in Metis. "The numbers were encouraging as we saw more than 82% of students using Metis more than once, with an average session time of 14 minutes. Our work received the second place award at the Research Symposium in CMUQ," adds Wasi.
The biggest challenge when starting up, according to Wasi, was to build the right team with complementary skills. The co-founders of Metis include Rukhsar Neyaz, who hails from India, and Jiyda Moussa from Mauritania, both of who hold undergraduates degrees from Carnegie Mellon University. "We just happened to be lucky in this regard," Wasi says. "Up until graduation, Rukhsar and myself were working on this project, handling backend and frontend of the application respectively. Just after graduation, Jiyda joined the team, bringing in enterprise experience to the team." He also notes how the Entrepreneurship Innovation Centre at CMUQ heavily supported them, especially thanking Maher Hakim, head of the center, for steering them in the right direction. "We have been fortunate to meet extremely kind individuals in the past few years who have helped us in all kinds of ways. They helped us refine our product, improve team culture, prepare impactful sales pitches and attend meaningful events.
As fresh graduates, I don't see how we would have survived without their advice and generous favors." With respect to the entrepreneurial environment in Qatar, he believes compared to established ecosystems like Silicon Valley and Sweden, it is still in its infancy stage, but he has personally met with many people who are working hard to make things better in Doha. "I expect to see more promising investment opportunities, tech incubation centers and collaborative platforms in the near future. However, there is certainly lack of trust amongst incubators and investors for young entrepreneurs who do not have a strong resume. I hope that changes soon." As for how Metis is financially funded, Wasi says that up until 2016, they bootstrapped themselves while pursuing an investment from Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP). "Winning Al-Fikra [business plan competition] and having summer jobs as undergrads helped us survive in these times. Meanwhile, I was crashing at a friend's place to save mammoth housing expenses in Doha. Fortunately, just when we were about to go broke, we received QSTP accelerator funding of US$100,000, which kept us moving. We plan to raise the next round of funding by the end of this year."
Related: Qatari Entrepreneurs Venture Out Into The Real-World: QSTP Concludes Second Accelerator Program
With respect to the Qatar National Vision 2030, Wasi says Qatar is proactively expanding its higher education system to match, and in some cases, exceed, the best in the world. "Our vision to leverage technology to enhance learning and drive better student outcomes aligns well with this," he notes. "As recent graduates ourselves, we understand the kind of investment students make when they decide on their college journey. By planning their degree in advance, students extract more value out of these four years– not only enhancing their learning, but [also] allowing them to become impactful contributors postgraduation." Equally important, Metis has decided to go for the B2B SaaS Model targeted towards universities around the world. In addition, they offer a customized cloud-hosted application for each partner university with seamless integration with their Student Information System and Course Catalog. In other words, the interactive, context-aware interface allows students to visualize and modify their upcoming semesters.
"The unique course recommendation system lets students discover courses from the university's catalog that aligns with their degree requirements, interests and career goals." Wasi reiterates and highlights how Metis also enables university advisors to access a complete student profile, guide their students and identify pupils who are at risk of a late graduation. "College administrators can manage program requirements with the industry's first interactive program editor. As an analogy, we are trying to be Slack in the space of academic planners." In short, Metis' mission is to assist students in planning their undergraduate journey through student-driven collaborative tools that eliminate dull tasks, and their vision is to empower students in exploring maximum value from their academic journey.
Wasi says that Metis is the first student-driven academic planner in the market, designed by students who are frustrated with existing planning process. "The application prioritizes what matters most to students in an interface that aligns well with other modern applications we are used to. Having said that, we realize the need for a better platform for everyone involved in the student success planning – including university advisors and administrators. Using continuous feedback from college advisors, we have managed to build a unique collaborative planning platform that will be assisting college community and helping students get the best out of their college experience."
Metis is targeting universities who follow elective based curriculum, and currently facing low on-time graduation rates. "Our primary market is US colleges and their branch campuses abroad including Qatar and UAE. We plan to reach out to college advisors at these institutions through relevant conferences and offer them free semester-long trials. We are confident to see good traction numbers during these trial periods." Wasi adds that they are currently in the process of closing their first deal with a major US university. "If things go as planned, we will be serving around 10,000 students by the end of this year. Once our first sales cycle closes, we plan to scale aggressively. Our aim is to assist more than a million undergraduates in the US, Qatar and the Middle East by 2020."