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Iquali.co (previously emptydesks.com)

Iquali.co will be the clearinghouse of a college network where students can register for on-campus courses with discounted prices

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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

Low-income students can register at Iquali.co for discounted prices in on-campus courses in a large network of high-quality colleges. Students receive academic credit for their completed courses and profit from an on-campus experience. Colleges receive additional income by using their capacity more efficiently and get recognition for reaching out to a more diverse student population that otherwise could not afford them. Everybody wins.

BACKGROUND

Solutions for increasing access to higher education, no matter how creative, usually require new and large funds. Iquali.co will instead use the existing excess teacher and infrastructure capacities of colleges. Top ranking universities usually select a small percentage of the students that apply, but there is a large number of high-quality colleges that do not get as much demand as they intend to, and end up with large vacancies in their programs and courses.

On the other hand, many low-income students do not get to enjoy or have to put a stop to their on-campus higher education, due to financial restrictions or to their full-time jobs. Those students do not find in the traditional college system the flexibility they need for spreading their courses in time or in different physical locations. They might look for that flexibility in online programs, but they do not find it in high quality on-campus education.

The proposed model is inspired by the hotels and airlines industries both of which use websites such as www.expedia.com and many others, as clearinghouses for selling their empty seats and empty rooms at discounted prices.

Iquali.co will build a similar service that will connect a large network of high-quality colleges with low-income students who cannot afford full tuition or cannot attend classes regularly in a full-time basis.

Main benefits for students

  • Discounted prices
  • Registration to a large array of on-campus courses in a vast network of high-quality colleges
  • Academic credits for courses approved, to be able to continue building on their higher education
  • Study planning advisory and tools
  • Courses graded and reviewed by the community
  • Online payment and simplified registration


Main benefits for COLLEGES

  • A more diverse student population
  • Required demand for using excess supply in programs and courses
  • Significant additional income
  • Exposure as a social responsible and innovative institution

  

main users and user experience

We have identified many types of student users, but we believe that we will have the greatest impact by serving "Teresa",  who we describe as a low-income, first-generation college student who dropped out after taking several semesters, but is lent a hand by Iquali.co to be able to earn a degree some years later. In the US 89% percent of students like Teresa drop out before earning a degree. The largest ethnicity group among low-income, first-generation students is Latino.

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During the next years, and while she keeps her job as a retail manager for a small shop, Teresa will use the flexibility provided by Iquali.co to register at colleges near her work or home in those courses that better suit her career objectives and preferences.

As an on-campus student, she will have the required face-to-face interactions with students and faculty to be able to get an impactful education and at the same time she will get to build a strong personal and professional network.

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In addition to the traditional benefits of an on-campus experience, Teresa will get to use the ratings and reviews provided by the online community plus the detailed information and advice provided by Iquali.co, to take the courses that best fit her career objectives, all at a significantly reduced price!

Near the end of her career, she will register back to her original college to finish her thesis and get her diploma. Her college will be more than happy to take her back and scratch her off its high attrition statistics. At Iquali.co we will feel very proud for having helped Teresa getting back in track and benefiting from an impactful higher education experience.

Aside from Teresa we are sure that there will be plenty of other audiences who might want to try Iquali.co. For example, adults who want to build on a continuing education or just take a course that fits their interests; first-time students who want to try college before committing fully to it; even college students who want to complement their educational experience with the perspective of a second college, or might want to take the best course available and not just settle for the one that their college provides. 


Our progress since the beginning of the challenge

In September 2015 we started out with a simple idea and now, less than four months later, we have an existing and operational start-up with a Board, CEO, workplan, seed funding, and very excitingly, explicit orders from two high-quality universities to start offering their courses through our website!

The challenge allowed us to use a world class methodology – human-centered design – and a strict timeframe, to go from idea to traction in a very short time (for documentation of the human-centered design milestones please go to the “Attachments” section below).

During these few months we built a team of co-founders with a cumulative experience of more than 75 years with the higher education sector, most of us with graduate studies either at Harvard or MIT. Our team now includes an ex-Provost of a leading university, a Harvard PhD with teaching, administrative, and research experience at MIT and other universities, the CEO of a social media consulting company, and the CEO of a development accelerator with vast experience advising universities.  

During the process we got 80 potential students to try our prototypes, conducted over 35 in-person interviews with potential students, and interviewed 18 college officials and faculty members in the US and Latin America (see the list of interviewees in the "Attachments" section below).

Prototyping

The testing process allowed us to reach very valuable learnings such as: (for full disclosure of quantitative and qualitative results of our student surveys and interviews click here):

  • 52% of the potential users rated Iquali.co´s value proposition with a 9 or 10 in a scale from 1-10; among the dropouts consulted this percentage raised to 100%!
  • 62% of tested users said they would “probably use” Iquali.co ; an additional 12% said they would “definitely use” it
  • 71% of the users did not change their willingness to use our service after confronted with a potential equivalent price of $500 per course ; 14% lowered their willingness and 14% raised it.
  • 47% said the minimum discount they would expect is 20%; 28% said it is 50% or more
  • The two features rated as the most important were “High quality of participating colleges and universities” and "Ratings and reviews by other students”, both with an average grade of importance of 4.8 on a scale from 1-5
  • The name of the site is not as important as we initially thought since our users will probably get to like the name that we choose: when asked to rate potential names from a list, the name used for the prototype during the test always came up rated as the highest.


Prototyping was a very valuable tool for getting validated learning. Early in the process we used a Powerpoint prototype and later we were able to build our mockup website which you can visit by clicking here: Iquali.co.   

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The online survey that we built allowed us to improve our validated learning and with a very short lead time modify the prototypes and survey questionnaires to be able to dig deeper into the most important findings.

Throughout this process we also got to size our market in the US and in Colombia, with the inputs of more than 25 financial models that we have built at the college level, and complementary top-down market calculations.  All of the above led us to build a pretty comprehensive business model canvas (please check it out in the “Attachments” section below).

A NOT AT ALL LIGHTWEIGHT ROADMAP FOR IMPLEMENTATION

On our second Board Meeting (1/19/16) we approved our roadmap for implementation. The confirmation that we received last week from two high-quality universities in Colombia to offer their courses through our website, was the conclusive proof of concept that we hoped for in order to commit thoroughly to Iquali.co. Our roadmap has the following milestones:

  • February 2016: minimum viable product for Colombia + product launch with the courses of our first two universities
  • March-June 2016: validated learning + viral growth in Colombia + intensive US college interviewing + (potentially) round B funding + product refinement + minimum viable product for the US 
  • July 2016: launch in the Boston area (with courses from 2 to 5 colleges)
  • July-December 2016:  validated learning + viral growth with US students + product refinement + intensive US college interviewing + (potentially) round C funding
  • December 2016: launch in California  (2 to 5 colleges)
  • 2017: draw plan to offer our services to more colleges in other US locations and internationally.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We will launch our prototype service in Colombia in February 2016 with the two initial universities that have asked us to offer their courses through Iquali.co, in order to learn from that experience and make product and procedure refinements, prior to our launch in the US in the Boston Area in July 2016.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

It has been an exciting trip so far and we would love to keep getting valuable feedback from the OpenIDEO community. Moving on we could certainly use all the help we can get. Wish us luck!

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Are you interested in the Path to Pitching track we've developed for this challenge?

  • No

Evaluation results

34 evaluations so far

1. Does this idea make college more accessible, especially for low income students in the U.S.?

Yes! - 58.8%

To a degree - 32.4%

Not that I can tell - 8.8%

2. Does this idea think beyond current cost structures of college and activate new sectors or partners?

Yes! - 64.7%

It's attempting to - 29.4%

Not that I can tell - 5.9%

3. How excited are you about this idea?

I'm so excited I just can't hide it! - 72.7%

I'm pretty neutral in my excitement level - 15.2%

I don't feel very excited about this idea. - 12.1%

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Photo of Bravo Oscar
Team

I belong to the California Brooks University alumni team. We think education has now become a more dynamic area of interest after transforming into a huge industry with several branches
https://plus.google.com/111847532749133371359

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