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These Harvard and INSEAD Alumni Are Making Ivy League Education Accessible to Masses Eruditus came about in 2010 with the aim to make high quality education more accessible and affordable to a broader community of professionals

By Shipra Singh

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Having attended top-tier business colleges, Ashwin Damera and Chaitanya Kalipatnapu well understand the importance of high quality education. "Education has had a profound impact on my life, both personally and professionally," said Damera, a Harvard Business School alumnus, in an interaction with Entrepreneur India.

But, these prestigious institutions remain elusive to most given their hiring models.

"The "Ivy Leagues' in the USA accept about 5 per cent of the total applicants. In India, the acceptance rate of the IITs and IIMs is even less at 1 per cent," he said. Even if one gets through the selection process, the high cost of education--a two-year MBA course in India costs nearly INR 25 lakh--and commitment of one to two years can be prohibitive to many.

Eruditus came about in 2010 with Damera and Kalipatnapu, an INSEAD alumnus, wanting to make high quality education more accessible and affordable to a broader community of professionals.

"The idea was to use curriculum innovation, technology and pricing to open up access to Ivy league education. At the time, my co-founder, Chaitanya Kalipatnapu, worked at INSEAD in executive education. When he was able to convince INSEAD to be our first partner, Eruditus was born," said the co-founder and CEO Damera.

The Mumbai-headquartered company offers professional education courses in collaboration with top-ranked universities. "Upskilling is going to be the differentiator in the knowledge economy. That's the education challenge we are solving, and we solve it in a unique way, by partnering with top ranked universities."

In the one decade of its operations, the company claims to have partnered with over 30 reputable academic institutions, including the likes of MIT, Columbia, Harvard, Cambridge, Wharton, UC Berkeley, INCAE, IIT and IIM, to offer close to 200 courses to over 100,000 professionals across over 80 countries.

Opportunity in Executive Education

But, why executive education? Damera said there is huge opportunity in the segment given the changing nature of the skills needed to succeed in today's fast changing job market.

"Today, a professional will typically hold seven jobs throughout their career. New skills like data science, design thinking and digital transformation are in demand. There is a huge need for professionals and companies to upgrade themselves to remain relevant. We saw this as a high growth opportunity and kept it as the initial focus of Eruditus."

Eruditus started by offering classroom programs and continued with the same model for the next five years. Realising the limitations of scaling an offline business, the founders pivoted to online education in 2015 to reach students globally. This was also the time when Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs were all the rage in the executive learning segment as a way of democratising learning and higher education for the masses. MOOCs are free online courses available for anyone to enroll.

However, instead of chasing the trend with the sole focus to scale, Damera decided to build his online business in a SPOC (Small Private Online Course) model giving precedence to richer learning experience. The key difference between the two models is that a SPOC works with college faculty to provide classroom experience to learners wherein they get to interact among themselves and with the faculty.

"To do so we re-imagined the online course pedagogy. That meant that we would use a cohort-based approach, use gamification and simulations extensively to promote action learning, provide regular feedback to students and also incorporate interaction with live faculty. We called this the "Globally Connected Classroom'," Damera explained.

Expanding to online also meant that the company needed to make investment in tech and curriculum development for which the founders decided to raise external funding. But, VCs were not convinced of the opportunity in executive education as yet.

"We were rejected by nearly 20 funds and there was a point when we wondered if we should raise capital at all. It didn't seem like investors were buying into the aspiration we had that we could create a scalable global venture out of India," said Damera.

Bertelsmann led the first round of funding in the company in 2017, followed by Sequoia the following year. Till date, the company has raised a total of USD 118 million till Series D funding round, valuing the company at about USD 800 million. Eruditus recently expanded into the K12 segment through the acquisition of US-based iD Tech.

Succeeding in a Crowded Space

On being asked how the company ensures growth in the extremely crowded and competitive edtech market, Damera said they have a proven history of adapting to market situations quickly.

"Being a global business, we have different competitors in different markets. We can learn something in one market and replicate it in another market. That gives us an edge."

Moreover, the company's focus on delivering a rich learning experience has helped it make unit economics work in a sector that typically involves high customer acquisition cost (CAC). "By partnering with top universities to ensure the education is high quality, and by delivering very strong student satisfaction, we are able to ensure our value proposition to the students is very strong."

The company claims to have broken even in Q4 2020.

Eruditus has a strong global presence with about 80 per cent of its students from outside India. It has tie-ups with universities in China, SE Asia, Australia, Latin American, US and Europe offering courses in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin.

Shipra Singh

Entrepreneur Staff

Freelance Journalist

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