Ask business leaders if colleges are properly preparing students, and a majority will respond, “No.” Knowledge is starting to trump college pedigree, and the Cambridge-based Fullbridge Program has played its part in helping tip the scale.
Candice Carpenter Olson, founder and former CEO of the now NBC Universal-owned media company iVillage, found the country’s skills gap alarming. Although academia’s legacy is strong, institutions have started losing focus, failing to dedicate the time to equipping students with the competencies today’s economy requires — or so Olson said she saw it.
“Graduate schools are increasingly viewed as very expensive in time and money; not necessarily effective preparation for the current world of work and opportunities for most students,” Olson told BostInno via email.
Olson, herself, holds a degree from Harvard Business School. She has also served as a founding board member of charter school Brooklyn Prospect and taught entrepreneurial leadership at MIT, thereby putting herself on the front line of education.
“I knew we had to do a much better job of bringing style, engagement, media and real world skills into education,” Olson said. And, after helping her seven children navigate their own careers, she knew it was time to take matters into her own hands. “My husband and I wanted to do something global, and something that could change the experience of the next generation profoundly,” she added. “And thus, Fullbridge was born.”
Her husband, Peter Olson, is the former chairman and CEO of famed publisher Random House. He is also a graduate of Harvard Business School, where he now serves as a senior lecturer.
The two founded Fullbridge in July 2010, working with several Harvard MBAs and guest instructors like Randy Komisar, co-founder of computer software developer Claris Corporation, and MIT Sloan Professor Jose Santos, to build the beginnings of the business.
The company initially gained traction by offering corporate law firms training for first-year associates. The move, according to Olson, was accidental. “When we were signing incorporation papers, there were two associates and one very senior partner in the room,” Olson explained. “They asked him why they couldn’t have this kind of training.”
Fullbridge’s overarching goal, however, has been to work with college students and recent graduates from around the world, no matter their area of expertise, and deliver a deep dive into business fundamentals. Today’s program currently teaches eight critical competencies, including creative problem-solving, effective business communication, sales and marketing and professional development.
To determine which competencies Fullbridge should be focused on, the team surveyed employers worldwide to get a better understanding on what skills and attitudes they felt were missing in candidates that they were trying to hire.
Fullbridge offers a variety of different programs — one of the most notable being the “XBA,” an alternative to the traditional MBA, that comes at a fraction of the cost and time commitment. Whether focused on business fundamentals or entrepreneurship, the tuition for each month-long XBA program rings in at $5,750, while housing costs $1,450. Fullbridge does offer a limited number of optional spots, however, at the locally-founded, creative co-living space for entrepreneurs, Krash.
Each program comes with the promise of being lecture-free, serving as an immersive, hands-on bootcamp instead — one that combines peer-to-peer learning with business exercises and e-learning modules.
“We designed Fullbridge to be rigorous, but short, [provide] great value and not require two full years away from the workplace,” Olson said. “For those who later decide graduate school makes sense, we have given them a great career head-start, so at least they choose based on great work experience.”
Fullbridge is currently working with first generation Saudi women attending college for the first time, as well as Ivy League students locally. “It’s very meaningful work — all of it,” Olson said.
The team is still striving to achieve their ultimate goal, though. When asked what it would take for Olson to know their work was done, she responded:
When we know that the next generation coming into the workplace has a great sense of excitement and confidence in choosing a direction that genuinely, deeply suits them, and that they enter their first job able to be a significant contributor on day one.
Image via Fullbridge Program