RRU and Open Courseware explored

The two pitches have been reviewed together because to me, they are very different–one intrapreneurial, the other enterpreneurial. The RRU one is in her own institution, while the other,  Ingenia, is in a Far Eastern country where language and cultural and other barriers may impact the venture. I thought that would be a good challenge.

I have approached this like a so-called dragon in the TV show den, though I only saw it for the first time in the other student’s link to the outside pitch today. Having dealt with VC meetings, I think the dragon analogy is very good and so will proceed wearing that hat!.

re: CEO Credibility

The RRU spokesperson is a confident speaker and appears heavily invested in the open learning concept. Her track record is not discussed, nor does their pitch elucidate how they will achieve success against all odds. The specific challenges and details of how the concept would be implemented are not presented. One would look for some mention of a system going into play to assess the efficacy of the initiative.

The Ingenia training CEO has a good level of enthusiasm for the initiative she is pitching; the extension of their company services into Taiwan. She does mention a few things that I found distracting. One was her assertion somewhere in the middle of the talk that because of contracts, “you can take them to court” which is a comment that really does not belong in a business pitch. The CEO first asserts the market is open, and later asserts this is indeed a difficult market so consistency of message was lost. Due to the risk of the venture, the proposed investor return of 20-25% does not seem worth the risk. Research dealing with how the company has adjusted its forecast activities, based on the current recession would need to be done before an EVA study would be considered complete.

Management Team

The RRU pitch does not detail her management team at all, nor do we hear about specific resources. This is a deficiency in the presentation.Is there a group of people in the institution in key positions that are on the team? Mentioning such a workgroup and providing access to their early meetings would help the institution know this is  not a lone ranger agenda.

The Ingenia pitch makes mention of specific academic qualifications, but there was no mention of the familiarity of her key staff with the language and culture of the area. It sounds like they will use the VC capital to invest in the appropriate software to use in the venture, but no mention is made of the current level of available hardware and software upon which the expansion phase is going to build upon.

Business Model

The RRU segment makes it sound feasible, but no specific numbers are given. Data from a number of institutions that have already taken the plunge, showing open course access indeed boosted student registration numbers would be desirable. Tracking systems to confirm any registration increase was due to this factor and not any number of other factors which can affect registration numbers would also be really important to hear about but are not presented. Complexity will be inevitable around copyright, so information about the road blocks that might arise here need elucidation. Has she talked to faculty? How many are “on board” for the concept? Note aside: The merits of the initiative itself (open courseware) are not being judged in the EVA review, rather the pitch is what we are to focus comments on.

The Ingenia CEO’s assertion that there is good opportunity in the region would be bolstered by some testimonials from her initial contact with those she has already spoken with about opportunities. Availability of a letter of intent to form a consortium with the software company for example, would be most reassuring.

Competitive Products

RRU of course does not have a selling price per se in an open sharing of the courseware. The question remains: would people looking for open courseware go to the MIT site for content before RRU ? (asked, and answered).

So, marketing of the RRU course availability outside of the consortium would be necessary. The institution would need to develop engaging materials to show interested students what makes them special, so they tune into RRU courses specifically. Our pitch person refers to showcasing media use to attract students and faculty, but no details were given about this aspect, which might be a good differentiator. The MIT sessions I have looked at are just .ppt and overhead/slides with the talking professor in the limelight but the content is good.

The Ingenia CEO does mention the population of the country but does not provide details about market size for in-progress work, or proposed work. There is no detail provided about any pricing for the services, just that they will be paid in USD not CAD dollars. If the pitch was done today, that probably would be left out with the dollars being so close this year. Mentioning some specific competitors in more detail, such as the Japanese group would let an EVA know she has done homework and is not afraid to share the good or bad news.

Market Readiness 

RRU is not providing any timelines.

Ingenia is also not giving set timelines. We do not know how long those marketing trips will take to complete, and how international, legal, import issues and language issues may delay their plans or not. Some track record on things would help here—she might share that it took 12 months for example, to go from contact to contract.

Technical Innovation 

RRU is not technically innovative and does not pretend to be.

Ingenia does project their expertise as being very narrow and specialized and such. The question in my EVA mind is whether their innovation exceeds the competitors from Japan already in the market in any way. No proposal is offered for differentiation in the pitch. It appears their strength has been in institutional and government rather than in industry, and now in the far east their first proposed work is with international banking and a software company. This does not mean they are not a stand-out, but the pitch is not strong in this area.

Exit Strategy 

RRU is not planning to exit, as this proposal does not lend itself to this point.

Ingenia does not talk much about when they achieve their goals. We do not hear about proposed company earnings, nor do we hear about their plans of merging or acquisitions or selling out if they do not end up meeting target. Investors would want more detail in this.

Overall Investment Status 

In the case of RRU, the proposal has merit but is not fleshed out in enough detail to allow the pitch target audience (investment assumed to be by the institution management) to know enough about the investment in time or dollars, nor enough detail about the benefits to the institution.

The Ingenia proposal also has merit, but again, unless this is an elevator pitch, more hard data would be needed to provide a VC the sense of solidity in their business acumen.

best wishes, Kathleen


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