Like many new college graduates, when Michael Croft entered the workforce he had to shed instructional classes and teach himself on the spot. At the time he thought it would have been helpful to have a network that had relevant information applicable for multiple positions.
Years later, after working at Amica Mutual Insurance and founding eSavV Tech, a Lincoln, R.I.-based technology solutions provider, Croft started his latest venture in 2015. Volute, based in Providence’s Innovation District (also known as the Jewelry District), was designed to transform business schools into “lifelong learning centers” that bridge academia and industry.
It’s a community-driven model, where Volute’s main customers are business schools. The company takes content and creates social micro-learning experiences where alumni, clients, faculty, and staff and can learn through exclusive content and events that aren’t streamed or shared anywhere else.
From a high-level view, Croft said they are putting the best faculty and business leaders on the job virtually to create the “world’s largest digital community of connected business schools” that are all committed to lifelong learning.
Q: How does Volute work for its members?
We really are a social network of like-focused professionals. But we are not a learning-management platform. We focus exclusively on professional development, continuing studies, and executive education — not undergraduate or degree programs. We are focused on the people who are already in the workforce that have these gaps between formal training and programs and don’t already have access to the best peers or faculty.
We have learning series every week or every month, depending, where members can participate in livestream events.
Q: Who is in your target audience? Are they CEOs or members of a company’s C-Suite?
Business schools. And then within those business schools, we support executives, and employees of their corporate clients, and alumni.
Q: There are already places where people can go to get help in terms of professional development — like events on LinkedIn and even chats on Twitter Spaces. What makes this different?
A lot of what’s out there is pretty generic — and it has to be because it’s supporting large numbers of people. These are repositories of self-directed videos that only take you so far because they aren’t very engaging and they don’t typically address your needs. I felt like there needed to be a way — through technology — to bring a human-mediated approach to personalize support on the job. I think this is where the industry is going. You’re going to see more lifelong learning modality, and pedagogy in the next five years.
Technology is changing so rapidly. People are talking about the “fourth industrial revolution” where technology can start to replace manual jobs that people do today. We, as a society, have to keep up with that. Quite frankly though, once you finish a program, it’s already dated. Things are changing quickly across all industries, such as fin-tech. What you learned six months ago is already shifting.
Q: How does this also help the business schools?
A big part of our mission is helping schools move away from the transactional “one and done” revenue that coincides with transactional “one and done” learning into a true, lifelong learning model that has a residual subscription. We’re reinventing that business school model.
Q: What schools have signed on?
We’re partnering with more than a dozen schools right now. But one of our latest institutions to sign on is Carnegie Mellon University. We’re launching the world’s first learning series with them, where we are launching series related to bitcoin, fin-tech, artificial intelligence, and different leadership series that basically attaches to some of the programs they do now. It complements and extends the value and gives members direct access to their specific challenges on the job as it relates to the series.
We’ve also just signed a deal with Unicon, which is the world’s largest executive education consortium, which is comprised of 115 business schools. Volute will be the digital hub for all the interactions around their lifelong learning initiatives, conferences, and training.
Q: Can anyone join Volute?
It is invite-only. But our expectation is that this community will grow naturally [as members can also invite peers]. The members can select and choose the series they care about and subscribe to that series. These members purely want to improve their understanding and solve challenges on the job.
There’s no solicitation, you receive an invite from your school or peers, and we expect people to come once or twice a month for live events and once a week for updates. And our events will not be found anywhere else. Our deal with these business schools is that you cannot access the livestream events or content on YouTube or LinkedIn. They are exclusive to Volute members.