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Kenzie Academy is an ambitious project to attract technology jobs to Central America

The most logical thing to do when you decide to step back from your successful start, which did not end up in the stalemate like the remaining 99%, is to take a little rest. Enjoy things. Take advantage of the fact that years of work have paid off, literally. Watch your kids grow up, pay for an expensive hobby, relax.

These are all things that Chok Ooi, co-founder of the not-well-known but lucrative outsourcing company, could have done. But instead, the Malaysian-born entrepreneur embarks on a new project that hopes to help combat the growing technological talent and bring skilled jobs to the midst of America.

This is definitely not a beach house.

Despite his juvenile appearance, Ooi – who arrived in the United States in 1999 as a student and worked on Wall Street and in tech start-ups – knows a thing or two about hiring by

The company uses an innovative model to outsource work with a focus on quality. Business Development Offices in New York and Singapore are looking for client projects – for example, those who want to find gas right after funding but do not want to wait for months to hire a team – which are then done by one more team. 200 technicians based at the firm's office in Da Nang, Vietnam.

To date, more than 120 clients, including Fortune 500 companies and Silicon Valley startups, have used the services, which uses a hybrid model to put its staff away in the customer teams. The most impressive of all, however: The Vietnamese technical team is formed internally and everything started from scratch without any coding capability.

The team of coders in Vietnam is the inspiration for this ambitious American project

Work to learn

Earlier this year, Ooi gave up his daily business at and moved from New York to make way for his new company, Kenzie Academy, an educational project to adapt the model to help Central America to the technological boom.

At his side are co-founders Rehan Hasan (COO) and Courtney Spence (CMO) who have experience in educational projects such as the non-profit media company Students of the World and gSchool based in Denver


The main idea behind Kenzie – which bears the name of the youngest daughter of Ooi – is to bridge the gap between higher education and the world of work. It's in the form of a work-based school that transposes students into the world of work with the skills they need, while helping talent-hungry tech companies fill vacant roles in the world of work. more efficient way.

The project begins in Indianapolis – where Ooi once lived as a student – with the intention of opening up to a first cohort of 25 students in January 2018. The options are flexible but the The main objective of the program is to equip students with the knowledge and experience to go out into the world and take a technology job while developing Indianapolis and Indiana as a startup destination.

The Three Founders of the Kenzie Academy

The focus is on learning by doing, and – along with – the academy will operate its own consulting firm that will be powered by students. To prepare for the world of work, the cohort will have up to six months of on-site team training and will also be able to learn remotely through a network of mentors.

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"People will come to Kenzie to work and learn, rather than be taught," Ooi told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

"Our program is heavily project-based and there is no template for reading, and the way we designed the space largely responds to that." It's intentionally designed to look like a Real work startup environment.There is no conference room and students learn material online – get together in small groups to chat with instructors who are more coaches or mentors by report to someone who teaches you, "he added.

The first courses offered include a six-month program to become a junior junior developer, a one-year course to become a full-stack developer, and a two-year course that covers coding and coding. ; computer.

Classes are not free, however, and they start at $ 12,000 with longer courses offering money for students who accept the work of clients.

Ooi said that Kenzie "tries to monetize as much as possible from the employer" because that's where the demand and capital come together. But it takes a level of commitment on the part of his students.

"We want to make sure that students are as invested as we are in them, we talked to coding schools who said that students who had a free trip tended to be the worst students – when things get tough, they resign, "he said.

Model based on the academy

Once the learning period is over, it is planned to transfer them to the consulting firm where client projects are entrusted to them to put the learning into practice and provide them with new areas of learning.

Ooi said that not only does this benefit students who have a genuine taste for the job, but that employers can also get to know – and work with – potential hires well before any bidding offers. full-time job.

Placement of full-time students is the goal – Kenzie will charge fees to employers for each hiring – but he is confident that bringing the employer and student together sooner will make the hiring process significantly more productive for all.

"As part of our two-year program, if a student works with the same employers, he will have worked with him for 18 months. Employers [will] know them so it's no longer a question of whether they are qualified, it's a natural progression to join these companies, "he added.

"The traditional way [to hire] is that companies approach recruiters, who send them hundreds of candidates.They do a lot of work to filter candidates, and then the hiring manager spends a lot In a job interview, you have a few hours to decide if this person is the right person or not.After that, if you do not find the ideal candidate, you will spend a lot of hours to train them at work, "said Ooi


In the case of students hired before the end of the course, the CEO of Kenzie is optimistic that employers will allow them to return to the academy to study because it will improve the skills of the employee and by will make a valuable asset.

Kenzie avoided the non-profit path – Ooi and Hasan said that a for-profit company gave them a "better chance of succeeding" – so capital is a consideration. The startup raised undisclosed seed money from investors who include former Google and Facebook executives, but it's also built to be sustainable.

This is where the structure of the academy is beneficial because it brings in revenue shared between the student and Kenzie. The team hopes that the potential to earn a salary for 18 months will make the course viable for more students than to say an MBA. There will also be potential for scholarships and an interest-free loan later on the line, the company said.

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"It's a very flexible model to be able to appeal to different types of students in different life situations," Hasan told TechCrunch, explaining that students will be able to postpone parts of the course, for example, if they get a job, and return to complete it later.

The focus on work is strong and this is reflected in the prices. These more advanced courses require some knowledge of coding, so those starting from scratch are in the entry-level option.

Talent in demand

Kenzie is so confident that he can give jobs that he guarantees to students that they will have a job when they complete the two-year program.

This is not new, of course. The coding of training camps, often wrongly, gives rise to such bold claims that lead to complaints from students who feel aggrieved after investing and not being hired.

The startup believes to be the exception to the rule because of its hybrid model using the board, the work commitment – eight hours a day, seven days a week – and the list of startups and startups. technology companies providing staff and time.

From a critical point of view, there is also a huge demand, Ooi said, showing some high-level examples.

An unnamed company in Indianapolis, which provides coaching services, said it wanted to hire 50 engineers next year, while larger names are also present.

Salesforce, which moved into the city during the ExactTarget acquisition for $ 2.5 billion in 2013, is currently seeking to fill more than 60 vacancies while the Indian giant's Infosys has just leased 2,000 new employees.

"Salesforce started moving its operations from several states in India because they saw the opportunities here.But even by removing these big companies, there are today 2,000 tech jobs unfilled in the state.They already have a deficit because there is a huge skills gap compared to what businesses need – the demand is there, the only problem is that we can not train them people fast enough, said Ooi.


Symbolic: The Salesforce Tower, opened in May 2017, is the tallest building in Indianapolis

Evidence of this chasm can be found in Baton Rogue, Louisiana, where IBM has failed to achieve its recruiting goal since arriving in the region in search of growth potential in 2013.

"It's difficult because local schools do not produce students with the right skills.Now, IBM goes directly to secondary schools to tackle the solution," Ooi said. . "This shows the depth of need, and the gap between what higher education produces and what companies are looking for."

Unsurprisingly, Baton Rouge and Wisconsin – where Foxconn is committed this year to investing $ 3 billion – are two extensions that Kenzie is planning for the future.

Ooi believes that over the next three years, Kenzie will be able to accommodate 300 to 500 students per year and more than 2,000 distance students. The company also plans to expand the program to cover courses such as dev-ops and digital marketing.

Such progress would be impressive, but it is clear that a company can not fill all the gaps across America. Kenzie insists that his goal is to bring about more change.

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"We want to educate what Tesla has done to cars," Ooi said. "Tesla has shown that there is a better way to build cars and now every automaker is innovating – they can not keep producing crappy cars that nobody wants."

Luck of Central America

For the moment, the focus is on the development of the startup community in Indianapolis.

"We are very hyper-centric on the local.The idea is to train raw talent in the local community, like Indianapolis, and keep it there," Hasan said. "Our wish is not that students in India be shipped to SF – these things happen, but our real mission here is to know how we build this pool of talent in the communities where we really are."

"We start by tackling the tech start-ups of SMEs that are struggling for talent," said Ooi. "Our goal is essentially to get them moving first [to Indianapolis] .Once they've moved in and we continue to train more talent and [make the community] bigger, we hope to make the city and the localities much more attractive to large tech companies who will then consider a move. "

Citing Amazon, who is publicly seeking a city to create a second HQ, the founders of Kenzie believe that the moment is ideal for Central America.

"Many of the best contenders are not coastal cities, they are actually Central American cities, so you see where the trend is." Large companies find that being in coastal cities is actually at their disadvantage because of the talent war and there is a lot of appetite to move to other parts of the country since they can find enough talent.

"That's where we hope to get in, focus on the middle of the country and train talent so that in the long run it becomes very attractive for these tech companies to relocate there or to Open secondary offices there, "said Ooi.

Large technology companies are bringing money to the table and, although they recognize that the education sector can be lucrative, the founders of Kenzie have stated that they had not spent a lot of time thinking about an outing. Ooi has raised the potential to distribute dividends in the future, apart from a sale, but for now they are being consumed with the early stages of their ambitious goal.

"We are not spring chickens, we have had a lot of success in our businesses and it is a job of love for us," Hasan said.

"It's very personal," Ooi remembers. "We have already made our money so for us, it's really about wanting to make a change for this country." We carefully organized our list of investors and turned down funds that did not fit our goals. "