“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
– Steve Jobs
Working as the Director of Strategic Alliances for UpGrad has put me at the heart of a unique feedback cycle. I meet with Chief HR Officers and Learning and Development professionals from several companies on a daily basis to understand their efforts in upskilling their workforce. At the same time, I also interact with UpGrad learners and the internal program teams to figure out the best ways to meet these upskilling needs.
The industry as it stands today seeks to recruit leaders and not mere employees. Taking from Steve Job’s thought-process, the UpGrad learning experience is tailored to drive this ‘innovative’ quotient into each learner’s arsenal. However, as a data-driven team, we only appreciate tangible outcomes from our programs. So, how do we quantify innovation?
Our team meditated long and hard on this problem statement and stitched together a one-of-its-kind project, which we proudly termed – UpGrad LABS.
What is UpGrad LABS?
Overview: This initiative invites real and live problems that are holding back startups and corporates from achieving their full potential. Our learners are then tasked to analyze these problems and help these companies. They are to work in cross-functional teams of 4-5 with learners from different programs and build solutions for the company to implement – all in a period of 60 days.
The following acronym captures the essence of UpGrad LABS in the truest sense:
Demo Day: There is no better success metric for your work than to see what you have built, in action. Each team will work on an MVP version of their solutions to the problem statement. The mother company along with a panel of stalwarts from relevant industries will then judge the learner’s solution. To facilitate this, UpGrad will be hosting a demo day once the project concludes.
Career Rewards: UpGrad will encourage meaningful interactions between these industry veterans and the LABS participants. Also, the teams will be featured extensively on social media while the winners get relevant career-centric rewards from UpGrad.
The First Cohort of UpGrad LABS
We announced the launch of the UpGrad LABS initiative to learners across our Data Science, Digital Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and Product Management Programs. Over 125 enthusiastic learners expressed their intent to be on board with this new initiative. All of this within a span of 24 hours. It feels great when the message of LABS resonates with the learner body to this extent!
At the same time, we reached out to several startups to see if they would be interested in sharing with us problem statements for our learners to test their mettle against. We are proud to associate with Penbound for the maiden edition of UpGrad LABS.
About the startup: Penbound is the Netflix for readers and YouTube for writers. It provides a platform to writers – both amateur and experienced – who want to write and connect with their readers online. They have managed to onboard writers residing in small Indian towns such as Varanasi to experienced writers in the US. Their reader base stretches even further. The IIM Bangalore incubated startup believes that we live in a time where “content is king” and the ones who deliver this royal content must be paid due credit.
The Problem Statement: Penbound – as unique as their value proposition is – brings to us the following set of unique problems. These will require a deep understanding of the principles of product management, data science and digital marketing to crack:
- Profiling Penbound’s user base (for both the readers and writers)
- Developing a robust recommendation engine
- Creating a marketing funnel for optimal conversions
Selected Learners: Keeping in mind the nitty-gritties of the challenge Penbound present, their team along with ours carefully evaluated all of the 125+ applicants and selected the following 10 learners –
Industry Mentors: We brought together a panel of mentors with a diverse range of work experience to steer the shape of these teams’ solutions. Our learners will draw valuable insights from these veterans throughout the course of the LABS project. Here’s the panel:
Balajiee Meenakshi Sundaram
Bala has eight years of overall management experience in the fields of retail, eCommerce, and publishing. He currently freelances as “Business analyst” and “Sr. Business manager – Analytics” for US-based companies – LeanChannel Management and Etailytics.com respectively. He is also involved with Dubai based OfficeRock.com as “Catalog Manager”. He spent over four years at Amazon.com, leading a team that managed key retail processes around content and data management for a wide range of Amazon groups/categories.
Nishith Gupta is founder of uxhack.co. He has over 9 years of work experience in designing, development and management of myriad digital products and solutions. His work experience is a well-rounded one that counts multinational enterprises like Verizon and Infosys to nimble startups like ThoughtBuzz (TO THE NEW) to now building and growing his own venture UX Hack. He enjoys taking a concept from scratch and building a product and business around it. He did his graduation in Computer Science from VIT Vellore and post graduation in International Business from IMT Ghaziabad.
Vineet is a Mobile Technology Leader with over 14 years of experience in the creation of end-to-end mobile solutions. He has led large technology teams to deliver secure and scalable personalised mobile solutions. Vineet is passionate about learning new technologies which can improve product efficiency. He leads technical strategy for Careers360 Mobile portal. He has experience in creating roadmaps and acts as a product owner for mobile applications (Android and iOS) as well as Mobile Web applications.
UpGrad LABS in Action
The first cohort starts working on these problems from September 29 and has 60 days to submit their working solutions.
If you are a startup or a corporate with a problem which you want us to work on, then reach out to me directly or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are an UpGrad Learner and want to be a part of LABS, please stay tuned to your email for the next cohort of UpGrad LABS.