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“Don’t go to university,” Collective Academy wants Mexico’s brightest young leaders

Don't worry, we speak : Español (Spanish), too!

Contxto – Universities and schools have been some of the most contentious issues of the pandemic. Beyond the desperation of many parents to get their kids out of the house, the institutions themselves have had to revolutionize the way they operate.

Not so with Collective Academy. In fact, they want to convince pre-university students to not enroll in college this year.

Collective Academy refers to itself as a neo-university. They’re all in with the new normality: Imparting knowledge online, sure, but what they really want is to revolutionize the higher education model far beyond the pandemic.

School’s out, says Collective Academy

Gone are the packed lecture halls and huddled workgroups burning the midnight oil at close quarters in the library for old school universities.

Meanwhile, as an institution, Collective Academy is itself a digital native, imparting many of its courses online. It had been experimenting with flexible teaching spaces—coworking areas and the like—before the Covid-19 hit. However, this isn’t what’s interesting about Collective.

However, their revolution is not so much in terms of content either. Indeed, none of the material Collective uses for its courses is new, per se. What it does is curate the already rather good stuff available in order to provide it on its platform. 

More interestingly, Collective does not hire stuffy old professors, but rather recruits mentors. People who have worked in executive and development positions in order to pass on their practical know-how to their acolytes. But even that is not what is truly innovative about this solution. 

Tinker, founder, investor, mentor

I spoke to Pato Bichara, Collective Academy’s CEO and co-Founder, in order to truly understand how Collective was trying to change the high-education scene.

In a sense, Bichara would be an ideal candidate for a mentor at his own neo-uni. He is an Ignia alumnus from 2012, and he runs Collective like a startup. Because it is. 

So far, Collective Academy has raised US$200,000 in a seed round and recently topped up with another US$200,000 bridge round

Mind you, Bichara wasn’t running his startup exactly like the rest. He was ahead of his time, eschewing the growth at all costs mentality way back when it was hotter than the ice bucket challenge. 

Why? “Because fundraising and dealing with VCs unfocuses you from your team and your company.” He knows this from experience, having been on the flipside of these negotiations during his days at Ignia. 

Nevertheless, he is planning a Series A soon, since Collective now has an established and demonstrable Product-Market Fit. They’ve promised Contxto that scoop, so keep your eyes on this space in the coming months. 

SEP: An acronym Collective students won’t be seeing

When revolutionizing a sector, it shouldn’t be surprising when the revolutionaries throw old institutions by the wayside. But that is only apparent retrospectively.

For a neo-university this has meant forgoing the official validation. The type most people would assume is essential to be an educational success. But this is not only missing from Collective; they are openly proud of not having the Mexican Secretariat of Education’s (SEP) accreditation. 

The way Collective sees it is this:

They tried to get accredited, but the onerous and old-fashioned requirements actually hindered the agility of their courses to adapt to changing situations. 

According to Bichara, the real stamp of approval is the rate at which companies are tapping Collective to make the most of the new generation of leaders that they are creating. So far they’ve built relationships with the likes of BBVA. 

“Don’t go to university,” Collective Academy wants Mexico’s brightest young leaders

McKinsey on speed

Why do big companies like this system so much? Because Collective has engendered a solution that I like to call the “McKinsey method on speed”. 

Collective Academy allows smaller, less wealthy companies to fast-track their promising staff through the neo-university’s programs. This way student execs to get many of the skills they’d get at an MBA at a fraction of the cost and time. 

However, the efficiency in terms of cost and time qualitatively change things for the Collective business model. Fast-tracking their students allows them to keep coming back for more if they ever meet a new challenge. That, it seems, is the revolution.

You’d never be able to go back to college every time you changed a job. You may just be able to take a couple of months off to do a Collective Academy B2B Enterprise Learning course. 

Moreover, high student turnover may also be the answer to unconvinced investors. The type that may be wondering how a model based on one-on-one interaction with high-profile, paid mentors can be scalable. 

On paper, Collective’s educational revolution seems relatively solid. But, let’s hope it is in practice since they must now face the ultimate test: The pandemic economy. 

Collective Academy recruits for Compass

Like so many other companies, the pandemic fast-tracked many products that Collective Academy has in the pipeline. 

One was Compass, a pre-university course to equip students with essential skills they may not be able to get at college. 

They’ve now launched an exclusive program for 20 precocious students in a sort of exclusive beta round. And, so… I’d better let Bichara continue:

We’re telling Contxto about this because we think that young people who read your news site are exactly the sort of students we’d like to have.

So, there you have it. If you are or know someone between the ages of 17 and 22, who is not interested in enrolling in a university course right in the middle of a pandemic, but is keen on developing their skills, I’d suggest giving Compass a look. 

You’ve got until Sunday, August 9, to register or nominate someone for this pre-graduate course.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep my eye on Collective Academic. 

-AG

Alejandro González Ormerod
Historian, writer, and editor from Mexico City. He was a book publisher, academic, and cheesemonger before joining Contxto. Still deciding on which Latin American country to visit next; food and fun are the main criteria.

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