Blockchain Insider is a new column dedicated to interviewing leaders in the blockchain world. These include founders, traditional industry veterans turned ICO participants and everything in-between. The weekly interviews will cover a wide range of questions and try to explore the motivation behind blockchain-based ideas and the problems blockchain technology is being used to solve.
The first interview will spotlight ODEM.io, an education startup that is looking to transform how education is accessed, change costs and intermediaries involved and most importantly help improve a failing educational system. Their goal is to connect students with teachers around the world directly and facilitate tailored learning.
At the core of this goal is blockchain technology and a smart contract-based payment gateway that will allow students and teachers to connect and transact directly. No more gatekeepers or unnecessary fees.
To explain more, ODEM’s CEO, Richard Maaghul, took time out of his busy schedule to provide some insight into his personal and professional motivations to create a company centered around blockchain technology.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:
I think of myself as a serial entrepreneur with a knack for identifying emerging and disruptive technologies. I’ve been actively involved in early-stage funding, start-up development and acquisitions for more than 20 years. Back in the late 1990s, my wife, Johanna, and I started a software developer called Jadworks and we provided Internet and intranet content solutions. Chevron was our biggest customer. Following our success with Jadworks, I developed an interest in understanding how emerging technologies could be used to improve outcomes in the field of Education.
2. What was your inspiration behind ODEM? How did it all begin?
My road to ODEM, or what we called On-Demand Education Marketplace, really got started when I became involved with Excelerators Inc. It was and still is in the business of opening up top U.S. universities and corporate campuses to overseas students and executives for short-term, in-person, learning experiences. Excelorators forms the foundation of ODEM, but more on that later.
3. What is your take on the current state of education?
If we’re talking post-secondary institutions, the system is broken. I don’t believe today’s students are well served by top universities and colleges. Over the full spectrum of education — quality, cost and the relevance of curriculum — schools are failing to provide students with real value. Higher education costs too much and predominantly serves the needs of elites. It isn’t equipping students with skills and knowledge demanded by employers. Underemployment is the stigma that has replaced unemployment.
4. Does this education differ globally compared to the US?
You only have to look to countries like Singapore, India and China for a superior overall approach. Education in Asia is a strategic industry that’s enabling individuals and entire nations to climb the achievement ladder. We have a heavy focus on Asia and global educations which was one reason why blockchain technology clicked.
5. How does ODEM look to solve this problem?
Well, we’re using blockchain technology to create a marketplace for education that will allow students and educators to collaborate to create exceptional course material. The platform empowers students to take ownership of their education choices. ODEM is also a tool for students to manage the cost of education and related services like housing.
A powerful aspect of ODEM is our ongoing relationship with Excelorators. In a way, we’re strapping blockchain technology on Excelorators’ network of more than 200 professors at top universities. By reducing the role of intermediaries, we strengthen the relationship between those professors and students. Both sides of the equation have more power to affect positive educational outcomes.
6. What challenges are you most concerned about?
We’re excited about creating a system of higher education that is more in tune with actually educating students, rather than protecting the status and privileges of the existing power structure. We’re expecting some pushback from ivory towers.
The fact of the matter is that more students than ever are going back to school to learn new trades and stay relevant in their careers. While disrupting traditional education takes time, the revolution is already occurring.
ODEM is making engaged, meaningful, in-person education a reality without the overhead or outdated course material curricula of traditional institutions. We’re laser-focused on pushing the needle and connecting students with the world of tomorrow.
7. If there is one thing you could change in education, what would it be?
My goal is to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable to more people. Our students deserve to be armed with the knowledge and expertise to make an impact.
Disclaimer: The author has had a working relationship with ODEM in the past. Access to ODEM management was made directly through the author’s personal network.