My first few years after grad school at the University of Tennessee were a time of growth and optimism. I had a terrific job in pharmaceuticals and was being groomed for top management in a corporate leadership program.
Gradually, however, I began to feel like just another ant marching in the corporate cogwheel, who had done exactly what our economic-and-educational system expects. I proudly served six years in the Marine Corps after high school and earned a four-year Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee. I later completed a Doctor of Pharmacy at the university’s Health Science Center.
Sure, I got the degrees, but I also ended up with $140,000 of debt and at least a decade of hefty monthly repayments with interest.
While I took responsibility for my mountain of debt, I began to question the validity of our higher education system. Why do we encourage young people to mortgage their futures for paper qualifications? Why aren’t we demanding greater value for the time and money spent on education? Why isn’t education more accessible and affordable?
In the winter of 2012 I was alone in Manhattan after attending a medical conference for my employer, a major prescription drug manufacturer. My job was to prowl industry gatherings for information about our competitors. I didn’t realize until later how ripe I was for change when I met Richard Maaghul, a Silicon Valley software entrepreneur who was in New York for family reasons. Little did I know that my chance meeting with Rich was the beginning of a journey of discovery through the best and worst of higher education.
Rich told me about his interest in starting a company to teach entrepreneurship to teenagers. This was at a time when Shark Tank had just started gaining critical attention and I loved the idea of teaching our youth the skills of business. I wished I had that opportunity. The concept led to our formation of a successful education company in the U.S. called Excelorators Inc., and five years later, the creation of Switzerland-based On-Demand Education Marketplace, or ODEM.IO.
Running Excelorators with Rich soon exposed me to the complexities of organizing short-term academic courses for foreign executives and international students on the campuses of top U.S. universities and companies. While our stable of more than 200 professors and lecturers has successfully educated more than 10,000 students everything from financial derivatives trading to the basics of solar power, the coordination of classrooms, facilities, language translation, catering, travel-and-accommodation details has only become more time-consuming and expensive.
Not long after getting involved, I achieved a breakthrough in my thinking. It came in 2013 at a three-day Excelorators’ seminar about Bitcoin, then a fledgling digital currency. Exposure to Bitcoin opened my eyes to how blockchain technology that underlays crypto currencies could streamline the organization and delivery of Excelorators’ training courses. Blockchain could be used to make education more affordable and responsive to students’ needs. The technology was created for collaboration. What’s more, Blockchain technology and its accompanying digital currencies could also provide a secure means for educators to distribute and monetize their academic specializations.
As an aside, that Bitcoin course also shifted my personal path, prompting me to invest in cryptocurrencies. Those early financial bets allowed me to achieve financial freedom, eventually allowing me to pay off my student loans.
“I was struck by the realization that my financial wellbeing had come not through the formal education that had created the debt in the first place, but through informal education that was timely and relevant to my life and the changing world.”
After the education seminar and my exposure to blockchain, Richard and I started to consider how to unleash the power of the technology to creatively shake up the education industry and improve learning outcomes.
The result of our experiences with Excelorators and my exposure to blockchain is ODEM.IO, an education marketplace that eases the organization of in-person learning courses and gives students more power to interact directly with professors at top universities. The platform enables students to actively manage the cost of education by engaging in affordable, short-term, in-person classes finely tuned to their learning needs at a specific time in their career.
The beauty of the ODEM platform and its use of the blockchain and artificial intelligence is that the more educators generate popular academic courses, the more students will be attracted. And the more students use the platform, the more the network efficiency we’re creating will drive costs down for participants.
To realize our vision of making education more accessible, efficient and affordable, ODEM is raising capital through an initial coin offering, or crowdsale, that runs until March 18. As you learn more about ODEM, I hope you’ll agree that now is the time for students to own their education rather than having their education own them.
Chief Operating Officer,