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Assemble’s Vision Inclusive & Innovative Ed-Tech Landscape

Assemble's Vision Inclusive & Innovative Ed-Tech Landscape
Photo Courtesy: NËITHER & Hyyer Labs & Studio

By: Bella Fitzpatrick

Exclusive Interview with Co-Founder – Cortney Woodruff of Assemble 

How do you perceive the current landscape of your industry, and where do you see it heading in the next decade?

We’re situated in the ed-tech sector of the education industry, which is traditionally considered niche but is rapidly evolving with the emergence of AI. The current landscape has been somewhat inefficient because decision-makers do not reflect the diversity of all constituents. Most capital in this space is controlled by family offices and white-led venture capital firms, resulting in fewer opportunities for minority-led companies to thrive and grow in the private sector. 

Historically, the industry has revolved around platforms like Khan Academy, Coursera, and MasterClass, along with companies partnering with governments for corporate training. As AI continues to develop, I foresee significant shifts:

  1. Many ed-tech startups may struggle to maintain their value propositions due to AI advancements.
  2. Nonprofits and specialized programs might lose funding as AI technologies offer alternatives.
  3. VCs will face difficulties finding unique companies in this crowded space, impacting their returns.
  4. Companies with super niche markets addressing issues that AI can’t solve alone will thrive.
  5. Founders will realize that generic tutoring platforms and quasi-innovative MOOCs won’t suffice; solving unique, challenging problems will be key. 

What are the core values that drive your company, and how do they resonate with the evolving tech industry? 

At Assemble, our core values are ingrained inclusivity, respect for diverse perspectives, and maintaining world-class standards in everything we do. In the evolving tech industry, we see an opportunity to lead by example, considering the perspectives of everyone. With the rapid advancement of AI, we’re already addressing important issues like how large language models are trained and the cultural sensitivity of AI products and services. As companies navigate DEI challenges, AI introduces new complex issues, but also amazing opportunities for innovation and growth.

In what ways does your company aim to influence or transform the education sector?

I’m really excited about what Assemble is doing to transform education. We’re focusing on bringing world-class resources to institutions and students who typically lack access to some of the extracurricular tools that larger, more prominent institutions have. I’ll give you three ways we are currently transforming education: 

  1. Modern Curriculums: We’re bringing world-class experts to universities via our online courses with modern topics that are reflective of the future of work. This provides an alternate modality that’s inspiring, engaging, and relevant for students.
  2. Personalized Mentorship: Our 1:1 expert platform gives students, who typically haven’t had enough time to build a professional network, a direct pathway to speak with established, successful experts.
  3. Premium Affordable Education: We’re constantly working to enhance the college experience by offering a world-class education at a price point that aligns with what’s already in place. 

Transforming education by providing these opportunities is something I’m truly passionate about. Our goal is to make a global impact by bringing this innovative technology and service to college students and professionals everywhere. 

Can you discuss a few technological advancements that have significantly influenced your business model?  

Definitely! Federal legislation, video conferencing technology, and AI has really shaped our business model. Before and after COVID, the government stepped in to provide more kids with laptops and improve broadband access in underserved areas. This has been huge for us because it means more of our future customers can get online and use platforms like ours to learn. 

A big part of our business is video conferencing technology, and we’ve seen incredible advancements in this area, especially with the rapid adoption after COVID. This has made our services more in demand and lowered the entry barrier since people are already used to this tech from other services they use. 

And then there’s AI. It’s been a game-changer for us. With AI, we can offer so much more from a product perspective to our customers. Whether it’s collecting data to create a better-tailored experience or streamlining a lot of our internal processes, AI helps us reduce the costs of providing our service and pass those savings on to our customers. 

What role does your company play in fostering inclusivity and diversity within the tech world? 

You know, when I look at the ed tech landscape, I don’t see a lot of diversity among the decision makers. Funding typically comes from family offices, nonprofits, private equity firms, and venture capital firms. Most of the funding from the private sector goes to leadership teams that rarely include people of color. This often leads to ed tech solutions that, while well-intentioned, might not fully address the specific needs of diverse communities, instead opting for a one-size-fits-all approach to maximize shareholder value. 

Nonprofits, on the other hand, often have to align their services with the priorities of family offices. While there is a lot of diversity within nonprofits, their funding can be restrictive, binding leadership teams to the agendas of their funders. 

At Assemble, we’re different. Our executive team is made up of three African American males, with two of us having attended HBCUs. We’re creating a more inclusive solution by serving the underserved because we truly understand the challenges faced by diverse audiences. Our team is diverse, our audience is diverse, and we’re committed to using our unique insights to support underserved communities and promote educational equity. 

There’s no platform that provides a service like ours, where you see so many experts and accomplished individuals of color. This representation matters. With all the companies that exist, it’s shocking to see that we’re alone in this. We’re proud to be filling this crucial gap.

How do you assess the competition in your niche, and what strategies do you employ to stand out?  

We don’t really look at competition in terms of market share. We focus on understanding who our customers are and the problems they face. Our strategy is to build the best solutions that technology and our insights allow. By focusing on our customers, we can control what we offer to them, rather than worrying about what other market participants are doing. 

What challenges do you foresee for your company in maintaining relevance and success in a rapidly changing environment?  

In a world of ever-evolving interests, the challenges we face revolve around consumer preferences and attention spans. We have to continually work relentlessly to provide a service that’s as reliable as water and stays top of mind when people think about ways to learn and get advice. 

From your perspective, what is the most significant impact technology can have on society, and how does your company contribute this?  

I think technology serves two main purposes: first, it enables us to find more efficient ways to do things, conserving energy and increasing output. Second, it brings information and resources to our fingertips, whether through mobile phones, car dashboards, or laptop keyboards.

At Assemble, we follow this trend by enabling and empowering people to connect more efficiently. Imagine a student living in Mississippi who sees a business icon on the news and thinks, “I wish I could talk to this person, but I don’t know them or anyone who could introduce me.” With Assemble, they can book a call and have a 1:1 video conversation with that icon, someone they might never have met otherwise. This level of access breaks down barriers and opens up incredible opportunities for learning and personal growth.

Our platform allows anyone to learn and connect with experts and accomplished individuals, no matter where they are. This is how we contribute to the transformative impact of technology on society, making high-quality education and mentorship accessible to everyone.

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Published by: Holy Minoza

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