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Why Ronnie Screwvala and Mayank of UpGrad are betting on Cambridge and international expansion

Sindhu Kashyap
2nd Nov 2017
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Online higher education company UpGrad has announced a partnership with the executive education division of Cambridge Judge Business School. The team also announced that they are foraying into the Southeast Asian markets and the Middle East and have earmarked Rs 200 crore for the same.

With focus on upskilling business professionals in Digital Marketing Strategies, the program will combine Cambridge Judge Business School’s global faculty along with experts and select corporate partners from local markets. The enrolments started in the end of October and the first batch will begin in January 2018.

Started in July 2015 by Mayank Kumar and Ronnie Screwvala, UpGrad is an online higher education company that provides industry relevant program to coach motivated individuals.

Talking about the collaboration, Ronnie adds that UpGrad’s collaboration with Cambridge Judge Business School is the first step in the direction - of building a world-class education product out of India. With this partnership the team aims to expand their presence outside India - and provide a superior learning experience to students across international markets.

L-R: Mayank Kumar and Ronnie Screwvala. Co-Founders UpGrad

He explains,

“We have seen a strong acceptability of our programs in India, where our platform operates at scale with over 170,000 users with most willing to pay overRs 2 lakh for online programs. Not only that, our programs have seen a 90 percent completion rate and 50 percent NPS (Net Promoter Score) score - which demonstrates very high engagement and satisfaction level amongst our learners. Given that our product has scaled in India- where we are able to deliver high-quality learning experience to our learners- we felt that we should take our product and learning experience to the international markets.”

Setting sights on international markets

In April this year, Ronnie had announced Asia’s first online scholarship fund with an initial corpus of Rs 100 crore. The scholarship fund would be aimed at skilling individuals in relevant areas and equipping them with industry-relevant knowledge.

The team is looking at international expansions in three phases – 1. SE Asia and the Middle East, 2. other emerging markets - around Africa and 3. developed markets such as Australia, US and UK.

“The thought behind the markets in phase 1 (SE Asia and the Middle East) are twofold - geographical proximity and cultural similarity when it comes to outlook towards professional education. We also feel that the markets that we have chosen in Phase 1 - are geographies where there is limited credible quality online education options and we want to set the standards in these geographies,” says Mayank Kumar, Co-founder UpGrad.

A digital focus

In terms of customer acquisition, other than the usual digital media channels, UpGrad is planning to erect various offline experience centers called UpGrad XChange. These are 1500-2000 sq ft areas - where learners can come network, work on case studies, finish assignments - but more importantly engage with like-minded people for career-related topics.

Says Mayank, “Think of this as a ’Starbucks of Education’.

With more than 1.4 million schools and over 35,000 higher education institutes, India has the largest college-going population and one of the largest higher education systems in the world. Yet, less than one in five of the relevant population enrolls for post-secondary education. Less than 30 percent of Indian graduates are considered employable by the industry.

Mayank adds that UpGrad’s broad areas of focus are data, digital, and technology. He believes that while these are the areas which are growing at a massive rate, the industry is finding it increasingly difficult to hire talented professionals for these roles.

Looking at deeper collaborations

“Our mission is to help our learners build careers and help the industry hire talented professionals. We will look at partnering with global universities in the areas where we a significant change in skillset happening. Specific areas that we will look at are - Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Digital Transformation, FinTech, Cybersecurity,” says Mayank.

The team claims to actively collaborate with Indian startups, be it for content development, building tech stack for the learning platform, help them find suitable talent from the internal pool of learners orto outsourcing their internal projects. Last year, UpGrad had acquhired edtech startup Pyoopil, a SaaS based B2B learning product startup. We will follow a similar strategy in these newer markets - where we actively collaborate with startups in these markets and also acquire/invest in them if suitable synergies are identified. We will evaluate education / edtech startups in local markets and partner / acquire per our needs in these local markets,” explains Ronnie.

Speaking of future collaborations, Mayank says that they are looking at similar collaborations with universities in UK, US, Australia and Singapore.

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