Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Q&A with Matt Meltzer, Founder and CEO of Sage Corps.

Q&A with Matt Meltzer, Founder and CEO of Sage Corps.

EdTech Times had the pleasure to speak with Matt Meltzer, founder and CEO of Sage Corps. Sage Corps is a company that develops a program allowing top university students to work abroad at tech startups, participate in corporate sabbatical programs, and more. Below is our interview covering wide range of topics, including Sage Corps and EdTech.

Company at Glance:
Matt Meltzer, founder and CEO of Sage Corps.
Matt Meltzer, founder and CEO of Sage Corps. 
Founders: Matt Meltzer
Founded: 2012
Category: Higher Education – Experiential Learning
Product stage: Market
Company twitter: @sage_corps
Founder twitter: @msmeltzer29

ETT: How would you define the market segment your company is in? Who are your core customers?
MM: Sage Corps is an experiential learning program that sends top university students to work with foreign tech startups for 8-12 weeks. Our program, however, extends well beyond the abroad experience. In that sense, we have carved out a unique space within the work and study abroad market. Our core customers are the country’s top college students, but we also offer graduate student and entry level corporate sabbatical programs. Due to high demand, Sage Corps is very competitive. Historically, we have a 5% acceptance rate. Some of our students are engineers, while others study finance, literature, or philosophy. Some are seniors. Others are freshmen. MBAs are welcome. All of them want to step outside their comfort zone and build global companies and networks.

ETT: How did you identify the problem you’re addressing? What was your process in identifying it?
MM: Sage Corps grew out of two problems I encountered as a college student.
First, I was interested in gaining international work experience. But corporate life did not excite me. At the time, the campus Career Services Center could not offer any viable options. Out of necessity, I took matters into my own hands. After a 10-hour flight, 60 days looking for a suitable apartment, and 90 days going door-to-door with my resume, I found an unpaid internship at a startup newspaper in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Second, I was an Ivy-league honor student, and not a single company pulled my resume out of the anonymous stack. A few of my friends and classmates with similar credentials had better luck – because they had taken advantage of networking opportunities.
With Sage Corps, I wanted to help students get international experience, bring talent to foreign startups that I knew needed it, and start building professional connections that can make the difference after graduation.

ETT:  And how did you develop a solution to this particular problem? What was your process?
MM:  I hustled. I started with a proposed solution: a turn-key program to allow students to parachute into a foreign country, experience a rigorous professional and cultural experience building a company, and return with a robust professional network.  Next, I called everyone I knew for feedback. I needed a scalable model. My research told me that students sought: 1) meaningful and unique work experiences and 2) professional connections. Among literally hundreds of already existing study and work abroad programs, I stumbled on this niche.

ETT:  What makes your solution different from the competitors’ – what is it that you’re doing differently than your competitors?
MM:  Sage Corps’ three-pronged mission is unique: 1) Top Students; 2) Global Startups; 3) Elite Network.
First, we are a highly competitive program. Other programs rely on a quantity-driven model. We focus exclusively on quality. We want the best and the brightest. And once a student joins Sage Corps as a Fellow, she is part of our community for life.
Second, our Fellows participate in a rigorous company-building experience at global startups. Unlike many American entrepreneurs, foreign companies in smaller consumer markets must target a broader international market from day one. And in younger startup communities (e.g. Argentina, Hong Kong, Dublin, Colombia, and Singapore), our Fellows have incredible opportunities to make impactful contributions to their host companies.
Third, Sage Corps offers its Fellows access to an incredible professional network, both in the United States and abroad. Our in-country program includes visits to venture capital funds, startup hubs, multinational corporations, and government ministries. Once home, our Fellows tap the Sage Network – a group of young business leaders across industries in the United States who donate their time to mentor our Fellows. Through the Sage Network, our Fellows explore further career opportunities and contacts. Our hope is that our alumni will come back to us and become Sages. Other programs provide no community beyond the abroad experience.

ETT: Please tell us more about your product stage and what we should expect to see from your company in the next 12 months – i.e. describe your potential next milestones.
MM:  For January 2015, we will offer winter quarter and semester programs on three continents: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Hong Kong, Ireland, and Singapore. We are also exploring entry-level corporate sabbatical programs for companies that will send their incoming class of employees abroad to work with startups as part of their initial training.
With each student who becomes a Fellow and participates in our program, we are hitting a new milestone.

ETT:  Are you a disruptor, and why so? Do you believe you will remain as a disruptor in near foreseeable future or become a more mature company? Why is that so?
MM:  I’ll let the market answer that question. But honestly, I am not concerned with the answer. Sage Corps endeavors to identify and cultivate what we believe will be the next generation of business leaders – students who think globally, promote entrepreneurship, and develop an elite professional network. As long as demand continues to grow, and we receive incredible feedback from our Fellows, their Sages, and the startups, I will wake up every morning fired up to get to work.

ETT: Could you tell us about other startups or product builds that you have been a part of and what your role was?
MM:  My first entrepreneurial venture was a complete disaster. While living in Buenos Aires after college, I took orders from friends back home for Lacoste shirts that were made in Argentina. After I sent the first batch of 10 shirts, each “customer” told me that the shirt disintegrated in the laundry. Oops.
Otherwise, I am a recovering lawyer and first time entrepreneur. And I love it.

ETT: Did you or do you currently have a mentor who is/has been helping you through the startup stages of the company? Who is that mentor?
MM:  I’m very fortunate to have an incredible network of family, friends, and colleagues who have provided unwavering support and advice. Numerous people who are part of the Sage Network have been extremely helpful, as well as everyone at 1871 in Chicago, where I office. As a first time entrepreneur, I am especially grateful. Of course, my wife Lindsay has been at my side from day one. In fact, she encouraged me to leave partnership at a top law firm in Chicago to launch this business. She strategizes with me every night (whether she wants to or not), after chasing our hilarious one-year old son all day. I am very lucky.

ETT: Where do you see the education technology market going in the next few years?
MM:  While I am not building an EdTech company, I have seen a growing community of EdTech startups collaborating in Chicago to help provide teachers better tools to engage their students. For the first time, you are seeing brilliant minds trying to mend a historically broken space with technology. From my vantage point, distance learning is an interesting space, especially because I am a believer in experiential learning.

ETT: What advice, if any, do you have for someone thinking about launching a company in the education technology market?
MM:  Company-building is really hard. It is scary. And it can be lonely. You cannot do it alone. Know your strengths, and know your weaknesses. Ask for feedback from anyone and everyone who will offer it. Solve a problem that people actually want solved. Even better, find a problem that people need to be solved. Identify complementary products. As a business that targets academic institutions and their students as customers, it is often very difficult to cut through the bureaucracy. If you pool your resources with others who are trying to reach the same schools or students, there is a higher likelihood of attracting those new customers.

EdTech Times thanks Matt Meltzer for his time and thoughts shared with our readers, and we suggest you check Sage Corps out at:
Sage Corps Logo

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