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A Collective Higher Education

Patricio Bichara - Collective Academy


Daniel González By Daniel González | Senior Writer - Thu, 09/10/2020 - 11:22

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Q: How did the idea of creating a company like Collective Academy in Mexico come about?

A: I began my career in Bain & Company Mexico after studying industrial engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Tec de Monterrey. This opportunity allowed me to compare the education I received in Mexico with what I received in US. I noticed three main differences: American universities measure success by the type of employment their graduates receive, the educational focus of the courses is completely different in terms of research, and the concept of community is much stronger in the US.

After working at Bain, I joined IGNIA, a venture capital fund, and I realized that there was very little innovation in education in Mexico. Most of the companies looking for funding were in fintech or renewable energy. All sectors of the Mexican economy were becoming digital except for education. When I finished my MBA at Harvard, I began asking how to provide high quality education at a more affordable price. I asked myself: What should the education of the future look like? 

After giving it much thought, we started Collective Academy, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. We began to interview top leaders in the Mexican business community about market needs and trends. The executives we interviewed complained about the quality of Mexican talent. Large, traditional companies in Mexico were having trouble keeping their employees up to date with the latest digital trends, while global tech companies with a presence in Mexico, such as Google, Uber, PayPal, and Facebook, struggled to find the right talent to develop their operations, and both types of companies wanted mentorship for those who excelled. 

Initially, we wanted to offer a bachelor's degree, but we quickly realized the timeline and requirements to get accredited by the Ministry of Education (SEP) weren’t reasonable for a startup. Instead, we developed our flagship product, a Master’s Degree in Business and Technology (MBT), designed for high-potential managers and executives who want to become better decision-makers.

Q: What products and services does Collective Academy offer?

A: We offer an MBT for corporate innovators and startup CEOs, as well as those who have the potential to become future leaders of their organizations. Two years after launching the MBT, BBVA, which is now one of our top customers, asked us to develop a degree for them that would allow their employees to take courses at the bank’s offices. In 2017, we launched Enterprise Learning, our second business unit, which focuses on developing leaders within corporations. We have created similar programs for Bimbo, Metalsa, and Tec de Monterrey, among others. This business unit has had very positive results thanks to its flexibility.

During the pandemic, we accelerated the launch of two additional programs: Collective Labs, shorter, intense courses focused on developing specialized skills for the future of work, including intrapreneurship, sales strategy, and behavioral economics. This fall, we will launch our first class of Collective Compass, focused on college students who want to identify their professional strengths and get a head start in their career.

Q: How do you align Collective Academy’s educational programs with the challenges the Mexican economy faces?

A: We update our programs like software: For our annual update, we thoroughly explore trends in the Latin American market, and we make releases every week of smaller improvements. For example, for our MBT 2020-21 release, we realized that companies needed more Product Managers, so we have decided to include a course to help our learners understand that discipline. We have 150 mentors, practitioners who lead some of Latin America’s top organizations and teach with Collective at night, who are constantly helping us improve. 

Q: How does Collective Academy attract the best teachers and mentors?

A: A Collective Academy mentor has deep experience in their industry, a vocation to teach, and amazing leadership and communication skills. They love teaching at Collective because they are not just teaching, but joining a community of lifelong learners. Collective has an amazing network of mentors and students. Additionally, we rarely compete for professors in the traditional university system because we’re open to much more diverse backgrounds. For example, some of our top mentors wouldn’t be accepted to teach in traditional master’s programs because they do not have a master’s degree or a PhD. We can be more agile because we aren’t accredited by the SEP. 

We have built a highly respected brand through the achievements of our students and alumni. Ninety-five percent of our students increase their responsibilities during their 18-month master’s degree. Our alumni see an average salary increase of 50 percent. If things go well, I will probably repay my Harvard MBA in 10 years. 

Q: What do you need to apply to Collective’s MBT?

A: We require students to have a minimum of three years of professional experience, preferably in a leadership role. They must understand advanced English, since much of our content, such as readings, videos or podcasts, is curated from leading institutions, publishers and companies globally. We also require that they have a good background in math so that they can study finance, data science and computer science. Ninety percent of our students are referred by former students, which says a lot about our amazing Collective Community.  

Q: What distinguishes you from other online programs?

A: All our programs are based on content that is already being taught at schools such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT, or Wharton, but what distinguishes us are our live, Socratic discussions and our community. Our students prepare for class in advance, improving the level of class discussions, and all of our sessions incorporate real case studies. Our students understand how to apply their new knowledge the next day, when they return to work. 

We also have an extraordinary community. Our mentors and alumni develop deep friendships and professional networks both through the MBT but also extracurricular groups and activities, such as our Collective Bookclub, Masterclasses, or Collective Women’s group. We share job opportunities, help each other with entrepreneurial ventures, provide career advice, and celebrate life milestones. 

Q: How do you convince potential clients that Collective Academy is the best option for their employees’ education?

A: So far, our best marketing tool has been the countless recommendations we have received from our current and former students. Today, we have students and alumni from most of Mexico’s multinationals such as BBVA, Grupo Bimbo, Alsea, Grupo Herdez, Citibanamex, UBS, Credit Suisse, as well as technology companies such as Google, PayPal, Uber, Bitso, Kueski, among others. Our quality and modern approach stand out. 

Latin America’s university of the future will be a university without the limitations of a physical campus or traditional constraints of a degree. We want the students’ learning experience with Collective Academy not to be just for the year and a half of their master’s, but for a lifetime. You may graduate, but you never stop learning, because with Collective, you’re a lifelong learner.


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