Pranata Chowdhury: Ugrow is an online learning platform providing professional development certificates

July 12, 2023
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Ugrow is an online learning platform providing professional development certificates from recognized institutions in niche, trending, and developing fields to address labour market needs. The courses will be pre-recorded and designed by a team of vetted instructors to provide flexibility. Our business model is both B2B and B2C. The B2B model involves Ugrow selling access to Ugrow’s courses directly to the universities, colleges, and private companies for an annual fee. Essentially, Ugrow will allow universities to outsource online learning to us. Continuing education programs are covered by financial aid across Canada, making Ugrow’s program essentially free of cost for Canadian students. Our mission is to provide a platform to support career growth from providing flexible and cost-effective courses, a mentorship program, scholarships for students, job postings, a blog on the latest trends in developing fields and an online community. Our values are centered around being relevant (providing up-to-date courses), flexible (working with your busy schedule) and focused (solely focused on professional development in business administration and technology fields.)

Tell us about yourself?

I have always been an individual who is eager to learn, who is an analytical change-maker who strives to figure out, “How can we do this better?”

Equipped with a BA in Public Policy and Administration and a current Master’s in Public Policy student, I strive to improve programs and services in the public service realm. From her work experience at the City of Toronto, Ontario Digital Service, and Ministry of Education, Pranata learned how to collaborate with a diverse team to conduct market research, developed project management skills, process mapping, and communication skills to present the project updates and project plan via Powerpoint. At both the City of Toronto and Ontario Digital Service, Pranata gained experience working on a long-term IT-focused project which includes collaborating with a vendor to design the system and with the IT team to design the contingency plan. At the Ministry of Education, I collaborated with a team to plan, conduct research, design and deliver curriculums and programs. I conducted user-research at the City of Toronto, by anonymously observing the testing of an online application prototype. I also planned and delivered multiple focus groups to gather data to improve services at the Minstry of Education. At Access Alliance, I planned 20 career skills and life skills workshops to be delivered between August 2019 and March 2020, for which I created an organized workshop with timelines, key deliverables, budget plan, promotional materials and objectives of each workshop. With my applicable skills and experience in data analysis, market research, project management applied to both the education, IT, and online learning sector, I will strive to create UGrow a leader in the online learning platform industry.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Take a chance and put one foot forward, eventually you will climb.

What problem does your business solve?

UGrow seeks to solve several challenges in both the online learning industry and traditional educational institutions. Within the online learning industry, most online learning platforms provide a vast array of learning opportunities from sewing to playing guitar and tend to focus on softskills or hobbies. This smorgasbord of learning courses diminish the user experience by making it difficult to make a choice. Additionally, having courses for soft skills rather than professional certificates, deters users who seek courses for career advancement because the platform does not seem “serious.” The major online learning platform, which does provide certificate programs for young professionals, Coursera, only provides certificates from U.S-based institutions, therefore, UGrow notices an opportunity to grab an untapped Canadian market for online learning. Most online learning platforms lacks a vetting a process for instructors which is evident based on the practice of most online learning platforms, like Udemy, allowing anyone to upload a course. Traditional post-secondary institutions, ie.universities and colleges, cannot keep up with constantly changing expectations for career development and broader economic demands.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

I designed and delivered an online learning course for undergrad students in the Public Policy and Administration program at York University after reaching out to the Director of the program on my concern of the lack of data analysis skills that is required in the field. Although I was a recent graduate, I was ill-equipped to perform tasks at work the public service and had to pay for a data analysis certificate, which made me realize that post-secondary institutions are falling behind constantly evolving work place requirements and expectations. I designed the curriculum called “Introduction to Excel”, designed Powerpoint presentations, recorded the courses and the submitted it for review and it is uploaded onto the York University’s webpage for undergraduate student’s to access. I realized two things: one, universities and colleges are failing to keep up with constantly evolving workplace demands; second, there’s a demand for universities and colleges to outsource learning to external parties. This realization planted the seed for Ugrow.

What is your magic sauce?

Competitive Advantage:
Untapped niche market for continuing education in Canada
Cost-advantage for students who can access financial aid for continuing education programs
Cost-advantage for universities and colleges because they no longer need to pay expensive professor salaries per course, instead the institutions pay a one time fee.
Ugrow’s pre-recorded model allows us to outsource instructors for a lower fee (ex. hiring an IT instructor from India for $20,000 CAD annually rather than the average cost of $130,000.)
The recorded course model allows students to learn at their own time.
Ugrow’s programs are gradeless, the focus is not on your grades but your understanding and completion of the program.
We provide certificates from accredited universities in Canada.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

UGrow is in the preliminary stage of its journey, therefore, the next 12 months is focused on planning, research, and reaching out to investors. The objectives of the first four months is to draft a business plan and open a website. Additionally, the team found multiple organizations which provide seed funding, we plan to use the seed funding to temporarily hire a visual design artist to design a visually pleasing pdf and powerpoint version of the business plan and a website designer to design a website. The next four months will focus on market research with key informant interviews, focus groups with the target market , and research emerging trends in the online learning platform and education industry. The final four months UGrow will begin pitching to potential investors. In the next 5 years, Ugrow strives to be a leader in the online learning platform industry.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

Finding link-minded individuals to expand the team.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?       

If you are a young professional we want your opinion to shape and mold Ugrow to meet your needs! Fill out our user research survey on our website.

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