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Digiaccel is eager to rewrite business education with industry-led approach

The edtech venture, run by former HUL execs, offers specialised programmes in ecommerce and applied marketing, guided by industry experts—to nurture a talent pool that’s equipped to address the needs of digital-first businesses.

Digiaccel is eager to rewrite business education with industry-led approach

Monday August 28, 2023 , 9 min Read

In higher education, industry integration often seems to be an afterthought. Even in many business schools, interactions with the industry are infrequent, limited to sporadic guest lectures and small curriculum segments.

Digiaccel Learning, an edtech venture founded by former Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) executives, aims to flip the top-down teaching model by offering a learning experience that is immersed in industry insights and caters to the needs of today’s digital world.

Karan Bhagi, Founder and CEO, Digiaccel Learning, says many of the top colleges still follow an academic, professor-led approach instead of an industry-guided one, and the delivery method remains primarily theoretical.

In contrast, Digiaccel, the founder says, aims to nurture a talent pool that is mentored by experts and professionals from the industry. And the delivery method includes live projects, real-world simulations, and gamified content.

Bhagi says the industry today requires professionals who are equipped to address the unique needs of digital-first businesses such as ecommerce, consumer tech, and direct-to-consumer. However, the MBA curriculum, he says, has not kept pace with the industry’s dynamic needs.

“The problem leading to the digital talent gap is that the MBA curriculum is outdated. It was designed for the offline world and to help build talent for offline jobs. It is a wide but shallow programme."

According to an edtech analyst, the higher education system in India leans heavily on imparting theoretical knowledge rather than practical skills; an ideal educational framework should strike a balance between the two.

“Rather than shaping education based on supply, educational providers must respond to the demands of the market and real-world needs,” says the analyst.

This is what Digiaccel is trying to do—through programmes tailored to prep students and learners for new-age careers in ecommerce, D2C, growth marketing, and product management.

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The startup offers specialised programmes in ecommerce and applied marketing to help learners decipher the complexities of ecommerce and construct compelling marketing narratives that resonate with customers and convert browsing to buying.

Digiaccel’s ongoing programmes include online executive programmes for professionals and specialised education for corporate employees. Its offline post-graduate programme, targeted at freshers, will commence next month.

Inception of Digiaccel

The heart of Digiaccel Learning is rooted in the professional journey of its founder Bhagi, who had a rewarding career with HUL. He ran the ecommerce business at the organisation, and, prior to this, he was associated with the Surf Excel brand in India as its marketing director.

During these stints, he understood the pivotal role of digital marketing in engaging with customers and getting them to make purchase decisions.

“In both these roles, I realised that even a company as aspirational as HUL struggled with digital talent. This talent gap for digital native roles was only increasing post Covid,” says Bhagi.

At HUL, he crossed paths with Aalekh Tripathi (Co-founder of Digiaccel Learning). Tripathi’s association with HUL spanned seven years, during which he spearheaded the beauty business under ecommerce and helped establish HUL’s division for D2C and digital-first brands in India.

Bhagi and Tripathi realised that business education in the country was at a critical juncture with a strong need for a revamp. This realisation ignited the spark for Digiaccel Learning in 2022, led by the two former HUL executives along with a core founding team consisting of ex-HUL employees.

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Programmes on offer

Digiaccel currently offers a 10-week executive learning programme in ecommerce for professionals with over three years of experience and a 16-week programme in applied marketing for individuals with 0-4 years of experience.

The edtech firm also collaborates with organisations such as HUL, WPP Group, and Mullen Lowe Group to provide specialised marketing education programmes for employees.

Over the past year, the startup’s alumni network has surged past 2,500, including professionals from HUL, Amazon, Nykaa, Asian Paints, Godrej Consumer, and WPP group.

Digiaccel was also recently chosen as Amazon’s Knowledge Partner for India to offer courses in ecommerce strategy, brand management, and demand generation to sellers on the Amazon platform.

The startup’s one-year offline post-graduate programme in applied marketing will be hosted at the Digiaccel campus in Cybercity, Gurugram, and will commence next month.

Bhagi highlights that conventional MBA institutions such as IIMs, ISB, and MICA also provide comparable marketing programmes, some of which are highly favoured by learners. However, he says, these offerings lack depth, industry mentorship, and practical hands-on learning that distinguish Digiaccel’s approach.

Learning pedagogy

The startup's curriculum is developed and owned by Digiaccel and its network of industry experts.

Industry mentors are from companies such as HUL, Amazon, Flipkart, Mamaearth, The Whole Truth, and Shiprocket, while Digiaccel’s in-house mentor pool includes former industry professionals from companies such as HUL, Reckitt, GSK, and Amazon.

How is Digiaccel’s programmes different from MBA programmes run by top management institutes?

The firm caters specifically to the learning needs of digital transformation, says Bhagi, adding that the differentiation lies in the three key aspects of industry curriculum, application-first pedagogy, and industry mentors.

While the traditional case study approach of MBA education offers valuable insights, cases crafted in the late 20th century raise the question of relevance in the contemporary digital environment, he says.

To ensure its approach is relevant, Digiaccel’s programmes have been created by deconstructing the strategies of renowned global companies. Then they have been transformed into comprehensive learning frameworks, encompassing necessary skills, abilities and knowledge, by industry experts.

The focus is on cutting-edge roles such as growth marketing, product management, and category management–all in high demand in the digital world, points out Bhagi.

Digiaccel’s programmes emphasis on practical application and follow a ‘learning by doing’ approach. This means learners enhance their skills by tackling real-world challenges through live projects and simulations.

The startup has made simulations the central element of its teaching methodology, connecting theory and practice. It has transformed concepts such as P&L management, building growth stacks in ecommerce and D2C, position planning, retention planning, and brand strategy into gamified experiences and interactive simulations that accurately replicate real-world scenarios.


For instance, while implementing a pricing strategy, learners can witness the immediate effects on the top line and bottom line and make decisions.

Bhagi says, “What was previously confined to Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations has been transformed into an engaging format—a game. This interactive simulation mirrors real-world scenarios, allowing participants to enhance their comprehension while playing and navigating through practical scenarios.”

As part of the live projects, learners work on live business problems of companies, including HUL, Mullen Lowe Group, and Publicis Media, and present their observations to the company leaders.

The learning is guided by industry mentors with firsthand experience, thus ensuring a relatable and impactful educational journey that translates into tangible outcomes, remarks Bhagi.

“It is like learning to bat from Rahul Dravid and not from a commentator or journalist who has never faced a single ball in their life," he quips.

The post-graduate programme will also include industry internships. “If done well, industry internships are a good way for students to build skills through real-world experiences."

Digiaccel Learning

Image credit: Digiaccel Learning

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Market opportunity and growth

Business education is a substantial yet under-served opportunity. The Indian MBA education market size is projected to reach $12.9 billion by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 6.1% from 2023 to 2032.

Several companies such as Stoa, Mesa School, Growth X, and Master’s Union are attempting to address the challenges of business education through diverse approaches, aiming to solve for real-world problems.

“The market for quality business education is very large and is likely to have many winners, and Digiaccel hopes to be one of them,” says Bhagi.

The startup is focused on building a scalable and profitable education firm by employing a fiscally prudent approach.

However, this may not be easy, as profitability remains a challenge in the edtech sector. Several companies are implementing various measures to reduce burn and cut costs—including slowing expansion and reducing the workforce.

“We will avoid reckless decisions that could jeopardise our financial stability. A significant portion of our capital remains untouched, safeguarding against unnecessary expenditures. During the first half of this calendar year, we managed to maintain minimal burn,” Bhagi elaborates.

“We have been very mindful about our capital allocation choices and have used some of the funds to build out the product, curriculum and team.”

At present, the startup has a workforce of 30 employees, including eight industry experts. By the end of FY24, this number could grow to 45.

Bhagi expects significant capital expenses in the coming quarters. But these expenses will be aligned with revenue growth and the focus will remain on navigating a path of controlled growth, he adds.

In the fourth quarter of its operations, Digiaccel achieved a revenue run rate of over $1 million. The company foresees sustaining its current trajectory for FY24 and aims to triple its business in the next year.

The startup’s offline programme is priced at Rs 10 lakh, while the executive learning programmes are offered at around Rs 1.3 lakh. There are also plans to launch a revamped executive programme in the coming months, at a price point of about Rs 3 lakh.

Funding and future plans

In March last year, Digiaccel secured a pre-seed funding of $1.8 million from Saama Capital, Whiteboard Venture Partners, Oben Ventures, and several angel investors.

In the near future, the company hopes to expand the reach of its specialised education programmes in marketing and ecommerce. To date, Digiaccel has reached around 2,600 learners through its executive and corporate programmes. It is aiming for 3,000 learners in the ongoing fiscal year (FY24), including 50 in its offline programme.

Next year, Digiaccel Learning plans to expand to the global market and build quality education for the world from India. The edtech firm says it is seeing interest for its education programmes from the Middle East and Europe.

(Cover image by Winona Laisram.)

(The copy was updated to correct a quote and fix couple of typos)

Edited by Swetha Kannan