The newest graduate business degree is set to launch in the Land of Tech this coming March. But don’t expect a classroom full of students resembling the 20-somethings portrayed in the popular HBO series, Silicon Valley. The Master’s in Internet Business (MIB) degree offered by the ISDI Business School is geared for mid-career professionals trying to keep up, transition, and stay relevant in a rapidly changing digital business world.
“Things are changing faster than they ever have,” says Steve Cadigan, co-founder of the San Jose-based school and degree program and one of three faculty members. “Companies are reaching billion-dollar valuations faster than they ever have. And the best way to survive and thrive in this universe is through a network of people. We are going to curate a class of people that is as diverse as we can find, that we think is really going to create some magic together.”
The degree is a continuous nine-month residential program at the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce and costs $27,500 (see P&Q’s Specialized Master’s In Business Directory). Students must complete 450 hours of coursework, 16 “thematic modules,” and a “Backbone Project,” over nine months to earn a master’s degree that has been approved by the State of California. Thematic modules range from design thinking and innovation to mobile and apps to entrepreneurship and startups. The program will be held on Monday through Wednesday evenings.
“There is this issue that is so acute in the Valley,” says Amir Mashkoori, who is also a co-founder and faculty member at the school. “There are so many people here that you can’t get in your car and drive anywhere, but there are also all of these people that feel left behind because of this major transition to digital.”
ORIGINAL ISDI BUSINESS SCHOOL STEMMED FROM ECONOMIC CRISIS IN SPAIN
ISDI, which calls itself the “first digital business school,” has actually operated in Spain since 2009, but only launched in the U.S. last month (January). Cadigan, who was instrumental in growing LinkedIn from 400 employees to more than 3,000 as the VP of Talent from 2009 to 2012, discovered co-founders of the Spain campus, Javier Rodriguez Zapatero and Nacho de Pinedo, through a friend of a friend.
“The need actually originated out of post-2008 era when the world was collapsing. And Spain had 30% unemployment at the time,” Mashkoori explains. “They had jobs open for digital companies and so on, but they had very high unemployment rates because people could not fill those roles.”
Cadigan began giving lectures at the Spain campus and found something that attracted him.
“Yeah, people were going through and getting salary increases and getting new jobs,” Cadigan says, noting he saw lives being transformed. “But it was this unbelievable x-factor of excitement. People were just thrilled to be part of an ecosystem.”
The Spain campus does not publish a job report, but offers a closed LinkedIn group with 1,209 members. Mashkoori says the Spain school has graduated seven classes and has had “tremendous” success placing candidates into roles that are “running a business or improving a business.” Last year, 22% went on to start their own digital internet businesses, Mashkoori says. “A large portion are professionals that are trying to shift internally to the digital side because the company is transforming,” Mashkoori continues, noting the average age of students in Spain is 37. “Or they want to go to a digital company.”
HELPING MID-CAREER PROFESSIONALS STAY RELEVANT IN A YOUNG TECH JOB MARKET
After giving a few lectures, Cadigan thought about taking the program to Silicon Valley and contacted Mashkoori. The two, who have been friends for over two decades, started quizzing their networks to determine whether a similar degree program was needed in Silicon Valley. “We were blown away by how quickly people said, ‘Yes, I know people who want that and need that,'” Cadigan says, noting he was hearing companies being shy on digital marketing, e-commerce, and cybersecurity talent. “We were surprised that no one has taken this — in a comprehensive way — and recognized the value of it.”
It’s no secret Silicon Valley has an obsession with young talent. According to a 2015 Business Insider report, Facebook’s average employee age was 28. Salesforce and LinkedIn had average employee ages of 29 and Google’s average age was 30. Out of the 17 tech companies Business Insider listed, only four — Dell, IBM, Oracle, and HP — had an average age of employees older than 35. And the oldest was just 39 at HP.
“It’s taking folks that are professionals that may be in marketing or finance or whatever they happen to be in their current role and giving them the opportunity to go through and learn from digital professionals and come out with a masters degree that allows them to pivot into digital roles,” Mashkoori says of the program.
FILLING AN EDUCATION GAP?
Both Cadigan and Mashkoori see the program as filling a hiring and educational gap. Specifically, Cadigan says, online degree programs and even local residential MBA programs are not addressing the digital needs for mid-career professionals in a “comprehensive” way. “They are not delivering through professionals or substance,” Cadigan insists. “They don’t have faculty who actually have contributed to building the internet or have demonstrated real proficiency on it in their own businesses.”
According to Amir, guest lecturers and module leaders will include more than 50 Bay Area digital professionals and executives, including execs from Facebook and Charlotte Russe. “Gary Briggs, the chief marketing officer at Facebook is going to come in and teach part of the social networks module and bring in other professionals for the rest of the curriculum for that module,” Mashkoori says. “But he is responsible for building the curriculum of that module.”
Mashkoori is quick to tick off the advantages of the yet-to-be-accredited degree compared to an MBA: less time and financial commitment, more of a vocational focus versus theoretical, and access to an immediate and robust network of executives.
“If you have been in semiconductors for 20 years and you go and get your MBA, you are going to have an MBA in semiconductors,” Mashkoori argues. “It is not going to help you switch to digital marketing. If you go to the other end of the spectrum and look at nano-digital degrees, you are going to have one aspect of a digital business, but not the skill set to run a digital business.”
Plus, Cadigan adds, the nature and setup of the model allows faculty to make quick curriculum adjustments.
“If someone is not engaging the topic or the students in a way that we think is being well-received by the students, we are going to adjust and course-correct quickly,” he says.
‘THERE IS NOTHING ELSE LIKE THIS OUT THERE’
While the for-profit school hasn’t received full (or partial) accreditation, Cadigan says they are well on their way. The institution has been approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education to offer a masters degree in the State of California. But to achieve accreditation, the school must start graduating students.
Officially launched last month, Mashkoori says they are “crossing their fingers hard” to enroll 35 to 45 students for the inaugural class. According to Mashkoori, they have “candidates at every stage of the pipeline.” Without accreditation, students are not qualified to apply for federal (Title IV) or state loans. But Mashkoori says they don’t plan on students going that route anyway.
“Our approach has been, we’re not going to go and try to facilitate Title 4 Funds and things like that, just to get students to sign up and have 90% of our funds come from the federal government,” Mashkoori explains. “Our approach is, if we’re truly a startup and we’re truly for-profit and we’re going to go figure out how to make this happen, then we have to create value for everyone involved.”
And value means finding the balance of making sure students have the ROI on the degree that makes sense for them and ISDI having a business model that makes sense for them. Of course, dozens of similar for-profit higher education institutions have come under fire for feeding on students’ federal loans and not adequately providing positive employment outcomes.
To be accepted, students must be able to provide transcripts proving a bachelors degree. Applicants must also have at least three to five years of professional work experience. All prospective students will be interviewed by ISDI staff. Once accepted, Mashkoori believes students will receive an experience unlike any other education experience in the U.S. “There is nothing else like this out there,” he says.