Q&A with Encore Career Institute CEO Steve Poizner
Encore Career Institute is a new online education venture backed by Creative Artists Agency, The Sherry Lansing Foundation and Poizner. The startup has partnered with the UCLA Extension to offer courses specifically tailored to professionals going back to school for professional development or a new career (hence the name “Encore”). The company, which recently closed a $15 million Series A funding round, was founded earlier this year and is based in Los Gatos, Calif.
SUB: Please briefly describe Encore, and the value proposition you bring to the education market.
Poizner: The Encore Career Institute is a new online company formed by leaders in the field of education and technology to offer certificate programs for baby boomers in need of employment, seeking a second (“encore”) career, or looking to enhance their current careers. Encore will offer full end-to-end counseling, from upfront career guidance, to innovative online courses, followed by assistance with the job search process. Encore’s national focus will broaden the highly respected curriculum and certificate programs of UCLA Extension to a larger audience, enabling boomers throughout the country to improve their lives and careers with new skill sets.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Poizner: There is really no other company who is focused on job-oriented online certificate training for baby boomers with both career counseling and employment guidance to help students looking for jobs or switching careers.
SUB: What are the primary differentiators between Encore and the competition?
Poizner: Unlike any other online education program, Encore Career Institute will offer end-to-end career counseling. Upon entering the full Encore certificate program, students would have access to a career assessment that would provide individuals a method to accurately assess their skills, identify what jobs are needed in the marketplace, determine the potential matches for these skills, and how to increase a person’s education to make themselves more competitive in that new industry or field. In addition, following course completion, Encore students would be provided guidance during the employment search process.
SUB: How are you marketing/promoting Encore and reaching potential new students?
Poizner: A founding partner of Encore, Creative Artists Agency, the world’s leading entertainment and sports agency, has extensive experience in marketing and brand-building and has long been actively involved in education initiatives on the local, state and national levels through the CAA Foundation, the agency’s philanthropic arm. The agency will access its vast resources and expertise in these areas and others to market the new Encore program nationally.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind Encore?
Poizner: At roughly 77 million strong, the baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) are an enormous population which can greatly benefit from the mission of Encore and the curriculum of UCLA Extension. While some baby boomers are well-positioned in their careers and have plans for retirement, there’s a large portion of boomers who are looking for a new challenge or unable to retire. Unfortunately, many retirement accounts were impacted by the recession—and these boomers need to continue working. The key is to help this audience determine the best choices given their experience, skills and goals.
Research shows baby boomers have been high consumers of education, and they place a high value on education. But we also know this audience wants and needs to get this education in a convenient online platform that incorporates peer community and support. Encore Career Institute will give baby boomers quality education from a proven online provider through a technology platform and environment designed specifically for them.
SUB: When was the company founded, and what were the first steps you took to establishing it?
Poizner: Encore was formed earlier this year as the result of combining the complementary visions of passionate executives in the technology, education, and entertainment sectors to address the needs of baby boomers, while improving online education. The Sherry Lansing Foundation, which has pioneered work in late-career job training, was a motivating force and, along with Creative Artists Agency, conceptualized Encore. Together with myself, we formed a partnership with online learning leader UCLA Extension to provide program content.
SUB: Is your partnership with UCLA Extension exclusive, or do you plan to partner with other schools in the future?
Poizner: Our current focus is solely on the highly-respected and world-renowned curriculum of UCLA. We certainly expect the partnership between Encore Career Institute and UCLA Extension to be successful and for other schools to have interest in partnering with us. We’ll evaluate those requests on a case by case basis.
SUB: You recently raised $15 million in funding. How do you plan to use the funds?
Poizner: Encore will be building a next-generation learning platform which will leverage web development tools, social networking technology, mobile devices and new multimedia technology to improve the online classroom experience, offering boomers the opportunity to complete a comprehensive certificate program in just one year and providing them with the skills needed to pursue careers in many fields, including finance, education, health care and environmental sustainability, among others.
SUB: Why was now the right time to raise outside funding?
Poizner: We knew this was the right time for Encore Career Institute because the baby boom generation is about to redefine the notion of “retirement”. Baby boomers are now hitting or approaching retirement age, but are unable to retire due to financial constraints, thus increasing the need for re-education. Encore will be offering our programs right at the beginning of this social shift.
SUB: Do you plan to raise more funding in the near future?
Poizner: We are very pleased and fortunate to have raised $15 million from InterWest Partners and Granite Ventures and this has allowed us to shift away from fundraising towards execution.
SUB: What have the biggest challenges been so far to building Encore?
Poizner: We are growing very rapidly and are always in need of new talent. So, we encourage anyone interested in joining our venture – either on the marketing, engineering, or the academic side – to please contact us at www.encoreci.com
SUB: Where do you see Encore in about a year from now?
Poizner: Encore certificate programs are expected to begin in the Fall of 2012. Roughly a year from now, we’ll be marketing the certificate programs for that initial fall semester. We encourage people to stay tuned to both the UCLA Extension website and the Encore website for updates and certificate program descriptions leading up to the launch.
Encore – www.encoreci.com