Ernie’s Royal Roads University Pitch Analysis

Ok, here’s my first pitch analysis.  Next one to come later.

Royal Roads University Pitch

  • CEO Credibility – Does this person exude capability and convey confidence that they will achieve success against all obstacles?
    • Based on the pitch presentation, Burgess does seem to have done her research and has a good working knowledge of the university.  She provides a confident, enthusiastic pitch, but to me, this appears to be due to her charisma rather than track record.  She does not present anything at all about her credentials or personal background that would help further sell her pitch.
  • Management Team – Have they assembled a stellar team along with the other human and material resources required for success
    • There is no mention of a management team or who may be involved in instituting such a program.  I’m assuming there would be some faculty members or key people at RRU on board already.  This can’t be a solo effort, can it???  If so, forget it!  Establishing the management team clearly is needed in this pitch.
  • Business Model – Is this feasible? – have they done their homework? – are their arguments and information accurate and compelling?
    • Burgess seems to provide good information on opencourseware, including some history, current opencourseware consortium, and how RRU fits in the market (benefiting and altruistic relations).  She has done her research based on a model of opencourseware from MIT, a much larger school.
    • Importantly, Burgess seems to suggest having opencourseware available to prospective students would help attract more tuition paying students to the school.  However, is there a guarantee that this would happen?  What is the cost of marketing this free, opencourseware?  Is there a guarantee that the university will be able to recover its marketing costs over time?
  • Competitive Products – What is a realistic market size, market share and selling price that these products or services can capture in a very competitive world?
    • In following the footsteps of the much larger school, MIT, RRU would be in competition with MIT’s reputation, established program, and larger financial budget.  Burgess mentioned that there were over 200+ institutions involved in an opencourseware consortium so there must be many other universities that would be in competition with RRU.
  • Market Readiness – How long and difficult is their critical path to success?
    • There does not appear to be any timeline provided for this venture.  How long will it take before the university sees a profit from attracting paying students to RRU by marketing their opencourseware?
    • There does not appear to be a market analysis performed to show the demand for opencourseware among prospective students.
  • Technical Innovation – Do they have an edge, and can they keep it?
    • To me, what Burgess is pitching appears to be something that other universities are already doing.  There isn’t anything that sticks out that is different than what is already being done by RRU’s potential competitors.  This plan is obviously taking after MIT’s model.
  • Exit Strategy – Do they really know what success looks like – is their destination clear
    • It appears that success would be measured based on attracting paying students to RRU as well as more experienced faculty.
  • Overall Investment Status – Am I going to risk my investment capital on this proposition?
    • Though the presentation was well-prepared, it seemed somewhat ‘amateurish’ to me.  The video was filled cheesy text messages inserted on top of still-framed pictures of the university.  Between still-frames was low-quality, handy-cam video clips of Burgess providing some commentary.  Though the information presented was fairly good, I thought the low-quality, amateur-style video detracted from a ‘professional’ pitch.  As an EVA, I’m not sure I would entrust my money into what may seem like an amateur venturist.
    • Furthermore, I think more market analysis needs to be done and presented to demonstrate that there is demand for opencourseware.  Burgess needs to provide more persuasive evidence showing how the university stands to gain financially, not just in reputation, and how long it will take to recoup marketing costs.  After all, if this venture is a money losing one, then there is no way the university should go for it.

Ernie’s Royal Roads University Pitch Analysis

  • CEO Credibility – Does this person exude capability and convey confidence that they will achieve success against all obstacles?
    • Based on the pitch presentation, Burgess does seem to have done her research and has a good working knowledge of the university. She provides a confident, enthusiastic pitch, but to me, this appears to be due to her charisma rather than track record. She does not present anything at all about her credentials or personal background that would help further sell her pitch.
  • Management Team – Have they assembled a stellar team along with the other human and material resources required for success
    • There is no mention of a management team or who may be involved in instituting such a program. I’m assuming there would be some faculty members or key people at RRU on board already. This can’t be a solo effort, can it??? If so, forget it! Establishing the management team clearly is needed in this pitch.
  • Business Model – Is this feasible? – have they done their homework? – are their arguments and information accurate and compelling?
    • Burgess seems to provide good information on opencourseware, including some history, current opencourseware consortium, and how RRU fits in the market (benefiting and altruistic relations). She has done her research based on a model of opencourseware from MIT, a much larger school.
    • Importantly, Burgess seems to suggest having opencourseware available to prospective students would help attract more tuition paying students to the school. However, is there a guarantee that this would happen? What is the cost of marketing this free, opencourseware? Is there a guarantee that the university will be able to recover its marketing costs over time?
  • Competitive Products – What is a realistic market size, market share and selling price that these products or services can capture in a very competitive world?
    • In following the footsteps of the much larger school, MIT, RRU would be in competition with MIT’s reputation, established program, and larger financial budget. Burgess mentioned that there were over 200+ institutions involved in an opencourseware consortium so there must be many other universities that would be in competition with RRU.
  • Market Readiness – How long and difficult is their critical path to success?
    • There does not appear to be any timeline provided for this venture. How long will it take before the university sees a profit from attracting paying students to RRU by marketing their opencourseware?
    • There does not appear to be a market analysis performed to show the demand for opencourseware among prospective students.
  • Technical Innovation – Do they have an edge, and can they keep it?
    • To me, what Burgess is pitching appears to be something that other universities are already doing. There isn’t anything that sticks out that is different than what is already being done by RRU’s potential competitors. This plan is obviously taking after MIT’s model.
  • Exit Strategy – Do they really know what success looks like – is their destination clear
    • It appears that success would be measured based on attracting paying students to RRU as well as more experienced faculty.
  • Overall Investment Status – Am I going to risk my investment capital on this proposition?
    • Though the presentation was well-prepared, it seemed somewhat ‘amateurish’ to me. The video was filled cheesy text messages inserted on top of still-framed pictures of the university. Between still-frames was low-quality, handy-cam video clips of Burgess providing some commentary. Though the information presented was fairly good, I thought the low-quality, amateur-style video detracted from a ‘professional’ pitch. As an EVA, I’m not sure I would entrust my money into what may seem like an amateur venturist.
    • Furthermore, I think more market analysis needs to be done and presented to demonstrate that there is demand for opencourseware. Burgess needs to provide more persuasive evidence showing how the university stands to gain financially, not just in reputation, and how long it will take to recoup marketing costs. After all, if this venture is a money losing one, then there is no way the university should go for it.

September 18, 2009   No Comments

Ingenia Pitch

As an EVA I was impressed by the qualifications of the core team. The venture also had a clear focus. I was concerned that Ingenia’s experience in the past has mainly been with governments and that their proposed projects will be mainly with multinationals. I would want to find out more about how significant this switch would be. Ramona is aware of, and honest about, the stiff competition Ingenia faces in the North American market and proposes an overseas venture partly to avoid this competition.

As I watched the pitch I was reminded of a recent report by the Educational Policy Institute on the effects of the recession on post-secondary education. At the end of this report (pages 28-29) the authors claimed that in Asia and Africa there is a high demand for education branded by large Western universities, and that Canada has been slow to respond to this demand. I noted that Ramona mentioned the success of an Australian university in Vietnam. Of course, Ingenia is not a large Western university and it is not offering post-secondary education. However, Ramona mentions that there is a strong presence of multinational companies in Vietnam, which is Ingenia’s focus, and this would suggest that there is a demand for the kinds of services Ingenia provides.

I would like to know more about Ingenia’s partner team and their experience. I could see this partnership as helping to overcome some of the problems that might exist with the venture. There is a question about what products they plan to use, as I assume that they will have to support Vietnamese. I understand that most of the connections in Vietnam are dial-up and that this is why Ingenia is proposing to buy a low-bandwidth portal in BC, but the slow connections may have ramifications for how attractive elearning will be and again what products should be used. I would like to know more about what solutions they implemented in their previous experience in Vietnam. When she discusses the need for insurance, Ramona admits that it is a difficult market and I would want to know more about potential risks.

I noticed that the Canadian government offers some resources for Canadians considering doing business in Vietnam. http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/vietnam/commerce_international/index.aspx?lang=eng

September 18, 2009   2 Comments

Royal Roads OpenCourseWare Pitch

Mary Burgess states that the Royal Roads OpenCourseWare venture would have both an altruistic value and a benefit to Royal Roads University. I think it is difficult to argue with the altruistic benefit of sharing knowledge and promoting informal learning. As an EVA, I believe that people would still pay to be accredited and to receive instruction. I don’t think that there is a problem with competition from members of the OpenCourseWare consortium because OpenCourseWare is offered for free and to benefit from the venture it isn’t necessary to lead people away from using OpenCourseWare offered elsewhere for free (such as MIT) to get them to use Royal Roads OpenCourseWare for free. Furthermore, from what I can see, for the most part Royal Roads and MIT offer different kinds of programs and I’m not sure that there would be much direct competition between them.

The intention to make Royal Roads courseware available for free online indicates confidence in its value, a sense that its quality speaks for itself. It is possible that being able to see the course material before enrollment may attract potential students and possibly prospective faculty, but it would be difficult to establish this kind of cause and effect relationship by looking at the experiences of universities in the OpenCourseWare consortium because there are many factors that can affect student enrollment. I agree that offering courseware for free could enhance the reputation of Royal Roads.

I have questions about what the venture would involve. Is it just a matter of posting course syllabi and handouts online and advertising that they are available, or will it involve creating new content such as videos of lectures, podcasts, and so on? The answer to this would have consequences for the cost of the venture, its viability, and how excited I would be about it. As other EVAs have mentioned, there are also questions about who would be involved in the venture and what their qualifications are.

My main concern is with the issue of licensing. Much more would need to be said about copyright issues and how likely the creators of course content would be to get on board with the project. Other EVAs have mentioned that it isn’t clear what the audience for this pitch is. If it is to faculty, who would be concerned about their intellectual property, then, as a faculty member, I am not persuaded that people will not steal my course content just because from a legal standpoint they should not steal it.

September 17, 2009   4 Comments

RRU Open Courseware Pitch

To open with full disclosure, I am a huge fan of Open Courseware (OCW), Creative Commons licensing, and the notion of free knowledge.  However, as an Educational Venture Analyst I would have to turn down the Royal Roads University (RRU) proposal based on the pitch.

One of the main thrusts of the pitch is that opening RRU courses will raise the university’s profile.  MIT OCW became widely known because they were MIT – they already had a significant global profile.  Has the profile of the Dixie State College of Utah (also an OCW member) been raised since they started opening their online courses?  Burgess gives little data about the affect opening their courseware has had on other institutions nor does she address the technical requirements or costs of this initiative.

Burgess (2008) also makes the bold claim that “being open can really help us with learner recruitment”.  However, MIT’s freshman enrollment before OCW was approximately 1050 students (Arnaout, 2000).  The freshman enrollment eight years after OCW?  1051 students (MIT, 2009).  Perhaps there are other recruitment metrics Burgess is anticipating for the small university but she doesn’t mention any.

While I appreciate Burgess’s passion for a very noble venture, the pitch simply did not establish sufficient details on the benefit to the institution to warrant pursuing.

Arnaout, R. (2000).  MIT Cuts Size of Class of 2004 To Prepare for Housing Crunch.  Retrieved September 16, 2009 from http://tech.mit.edu/V120/N8/8enroll.8n.html

Burgess, M. (2008).  ETEC522 Assignment 3.  Retrieved September 16, 2009 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1avzWv3_JDw

MIT (2009).  MIT Facts.  Retrieved September 16, 2009 from http://web.mit.edu/facts/enrollment.html

September 16, 2009   7 Comments

Welcome to our humble little Bootcamp…

For many of you, the concepts within Module 2 this week may be the most unfamiliar in the whole course.  The world of start-ups and venture capitalist seems a long way from the classroom.   However, every new venture has to start somewhere, and this critical phase of constructing a viable business framework around a great new idea is as essential as training before running a marathon.   Academics tend to believe otherwise – they come up with original ideas all the time and expect that the idea itself is all that matters.  It’s analogous to the conceit of a man who believes his contribution to creating a baby is all that matters.   The vast majority of ideas never become born as ventures because the gestation phase is so tough.

When we first launched 522 we included a module where we taught students how to read and analyse corporate financials.  While that skill is essential to every true entrepreneur (and educational venture analyst), it was too much for 522.  This isn’t a “business” course.  We decided instead to concentrate on the “pitch” because it is the purest, most concentrated, most accessible, and most social form of any venture.  It’s all in the story.  Just remember that you’ve got to be clear-minded and humble about your abilities to evaluate venture pitches.  If there isn’t something incredible or very hard to understand in any pitch, then it almost certainly isn’t breaking new ground.   Try to imagine what the pitches for applications like Twitter or Facebook might have sounded like before everyone knew what they were.  This module is aimed to help you start tuning your venture instincts.

Dive in and have fun!

September 14, 2009   No Comments