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ALEX Wants to Fill Classrooms Like Airbnb Fills Beds

"In a world where we can place people in empty seats in cars and empty beds in houses, why not place people in empty chairs in college classrooms?" That's what a team of Harvard University students say about their new start-up called ALEX (Anyone's Learning EXperience). The students recently won a Public Sector Innovation Award for their work from the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard.

The idea behind ALEX is this: Universities and colleges with empty seats in some of their courses make those available through the site, and employers that want employees to obtain continuing education can subsidize enrollment for their people. The platform matches company need with excess classroom capacity.

Currently, the site includes categories for courses in business, data, leadership, management, marketing and the food industry. For example, the business category includes two accounting classes, one "accounting basics for managers" and the other, "finance basics for managers." Both classes cost $1,000, grant three credits and are made available by Northeastern University.

The site earns a commission for every student it places, and most of the fee goes to the institution delivering the course.

The recent award, sponsored by Accenture, provides $10,000 towards advancing the online platform.

The current focus is on working with schools in Boston; in time that will be expanded to New York City and other locations.

"Many people are struggling to improve their education, companies need better trained employees, and every year there are about two million unfilled U.S. classroom seats — there is huge need and potential for the platform we've created," said Sergio Marrero, CEO of ALEX and a student at Harvard's Business School and Kennedy School of Government, in a press release. "Connecting working professionals without college training with available seats in classrooms is an effective and cost-efficient way to help business thrive while improving the lives of millions of people."

Added Pallavi Verma, senior managing director of Accenture's public sector practice in North America, "ALEX is a creative and commendable effort to make college training more accessible, help businesses address talent and skill gaps, and help educational institutions capture what is essentially lost revenue."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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