Acquisition International’s Influential Businesswoman Awards 2022 celebrates the brightest and best that organisations around the world have to offer. Few fit the bill more successfully than Christine Janssen. She has built a business that is perfectly suited to the challenges of the 21st Century, pushing forward into bold new territory. We caught up with Christine to uncover some of the secrets that have driven her to such inimitable success.
The future is coming fast, and it’s coming at a speed which will only increase over the next few years. To stay ahead of these changes will require organisations and their employees to adapt at a similar pace, which is yet another disruption to the status quo of the workplace today. To overcome these challenges will require an approach to learning and training which is entirely different, one which is disruptive and one which is thoroughly innovative. The work of Christine Janssen fits the bill perfectly.
When Christine founded Edstutia in 2020, she knew there was a massive opportunity on the horizon merging education and immersive technology, and it was enticing enough to up and leave her career in academia. Whilst her instincts and abilities were truly second to none, she has had to contend with everything from COVID and the Great Resignation to hybrid workplaces and advancements in immersive technology. The world of two years ago has gone forever, but the world that has emerged is one which is perfectly suited to Edstutia.
Put simply, Edstutia is a virtual learning platform positioned at the intersection of business and technology and was designed to both address the skills gap and help organisations get up to speed with digital transformation. “When it comes to learning and education, we need to think big, embrace technology, and be visionary,” says Janssen. Through the wonders of Extended Reality (XR), the team at Edstutia have taken revolutionary steps when it comes to reinventing how people acquire new skills and mindsets. Christine and the Edstutia team have committed themselves to preparing the workforce of the future for the workplace that tomorrow will bring.
Such impressive success did not come quickly. For many years, Christine was a business school professor and the Director of Entrepreneurship in the Gabelli School of Business at Fordham University in New York City. Her expertise and love of learning was largely built on two graduate degrees: an MBA from Fordham University and a PhD in a Business Education program from the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University where her dissertation focused on ‘how entrepreneurs learn’. In many ways, it’s amazing that Christine stayed in academia for so long, given her unrelenting energy and vision for what education can and should be. What is clear is that Edstutia has allowed her to really stretch her wings.
In addition to spending over a decade in higher education, Christine has garnered a wealth of business experience in many different sectors. She began her career as a marketer in different industries such as consumer goods, financial services and technology, but her love of learning kept bringing her back to university. Her passion for learning and education are evident. Such a breadth of knowledge has put her in good stead for fulfilling her vision through Edstutia.
The growth of the company to date reflects the immense ambition at the heart of Christine’s approach to business. This has accelerated significantly since the company first opened its doors. “I started working on Edstutia in the summer of 2020 and officially registered in December 2020,” Christine explains. “Since that time, the company and the VR industry have both evolved at warp speed, and we’ve been doing a lot of building over the last year and a half. It is super exciting!”
When we asked Christine to narrow down what Edstutia is offering and why, the breadth of her reply truly surprised us: “Our initial focus was on consumer programs, and the goal is to offer an affordable, accessible and relevant educational experience in lieu of a traditional college degree program,” she tells us. “We have done our homework and asked hiring managers from various industries what they are looking for in new hires – from soft skills to tech skills – so we are laser focused on helping people prepare for jobs in fast-growing industries and fields such as Cybersecurity, XR, Data Science, and Analytics. At the end of the day, we are focused on addressing the enormous skills gap to serve both learners and employers.”
The skills gap is one which affects every industry so Edstutia has also been consulting others from industries such as automotive and transportation, management consulting, and financial services, in roles such as DEI Managers, Heads of Onboarding, L&D Managers, as well as instructional designers and coaches. The opportunity here is to integrate immersive technologies to existing training programs for a more engaging, participatory experience for a globally-dispersed workforce.
Why is this such a big deal? Dr. Janssen was delighted to tell us: “Combining custom learning simulations and environments in VR and immersing learners in situations to ‘learn by doing’ is nothing short of magical. There is a true sense of presence and engagement because the metaverse allows for people from every corner of the world to meet in a new dimension where they can collaborate and learn together.”
Learners are able to brainstorm on white boards, escape to far away places in 360 videos enhanced with just-in-time knowledge assessments, build and deliver team projects, practise challenging scenarios in AI-powered simulations, and so much more. For those still sceptical of the value of immersive learning, it’s worth pointing out that individuals and managers have access to a high powered dashboard that presents a myriad of learning metrics to prove progress, levels of engagement, and learner retention. “What we’re building on the Edstutia platform leapfrogs what most companies and educational institutions are delivering today,” Christine explains. “We design everything with the learner in mind to ensure the experiences and output are fun, engaging and have long-term impact.”
A big opportunity that resulted in a major pivot for Edstutia was the public introduction of the metaverse in the fall of 2021. Along with that announcement came the list of early-adopter organisations that were already investing in the technology and related resources to be ‘meta ready.’ Companies like Accenture subsequently announced that they had purchased 60,000 Oculus Quest headsets to onboard new employees since a significant portion of their global workforce works remotely.
Dr. Janssen instantly knew there was huge potential to deliver enterprise solutions using this new technology. Through corporate relationships, she intends to strengthen her forthcoming consumer offerings with apprenticeship programs and an open conversation to ensure Edstutia is teaching the skills that employers are seeking. “As the metaverse becomes a household term and leading organisations want to be in the game, there’s a bit of a race in the XR world to offer more services to larger audiences, but it also requires service providers to educate their audiences,” she tells us. Alongside the rapid rise of her new venture, she notes that she has spent an enormous amount of time listening to client concerns as they try to understand this new virtual space, web3, and VR headsets. “We’ve had to do a lot with respect to educating our target markets on the value of and opportunities with the metaverse, particularly through a learning lens. There’s definitely a big buzz on the street and those in the know are very well aware that the metaverse is creating opportunities even greater than we experienced with the explosion of the Internet. One of my favourite phrases these days is ‘Ready or not, here it comes!’”
This keen eye for future opportunities has always pushed Christine forward, and she has seen immense potential in VR technology since her first experience in a VR headset. She was one of the first faculty members to experiment with this technology at Fordham. “During my time in academia, I’ve received several awards for my efforts in challenging the status quo,” she tells us, “but honestly, my greatest achievement was making the decision to launch Edstutia. I am so bullish on XR and am frankly leading the way with respect to merging learning and the metaverse.”
Working in these new digital spaces has opened the door to many in the industry, with women being one of the biggest beneficiaries. “I am definitely seeing more women jumping in – and it’s great!” she enthuses. “Given how nascent the concept of the metaverse is, I don’t see it as more difficult for women to enter. It’s a level playing field. The people who are getting on board are early adopters, educators frustrated with antiquated education systems, and those who frankly see a massive opportunity in front of us.”
This massive opportunity is one which has already seen many women flourish. “My experience so far has been that women understand the need to support one another vs. compete with one another. And this is true in entrepreneurial circles as well. Another observation I have in the world on learning and education in the metaverse is that more women than men are interested in teaching, coaching, and building immersive learning experiences. Interestingly, the vast majority of the Edstutia team is female.”
The ability for Christine to uplift the voices and talents of the women around her has been a blessing. “I think one of the obvious challenges of being a woman in a corporate – or even academic – environment is that often your voice and abilities are suppressed,” she tells us. “Your ideas, your contributions, and your potential just aren’t taken seriously. It’s ridiculous. When I look back at my career, I’ve left organisations because the culture was toxic and not supportive. In other instances, I simply disregarded the conformity and existing circumstances and made up my own rules. Not everyone appreciates that – and I’ve ruffled plenty of feathers along the way! – but over the years I have definitely increased my confidence in forging my own path.”
This ability to forge forward into bold new territory is one which has served Christine well. Her career is one which has been built on knowing the value of what she has to offer and not accepting situations where she is not able to apply it. “I don’t do well in environments where someone else or outdated systems determine my personal success or my ability to evolve,” Christine explains. “I will be in charge of that, thank you very much. And I strongly suggest that women make their voice heard, that they follow their personal dreams and goals, that they shouldn’t be afraid to carve out their own path, that they shouldn’t be afraid of change. And if you find yourself in an unsupportive culture, move on.”
This continual drive towards solutions which empower people and allow them to flourish is a vital part of how Edstutia operates. “The past two years have been simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating,” she tells us. “Obviously as the sole founder, I wear a lot of different hats – and I love it. But my saving grace is the small army of committed people who are on the Edstutia team. We are small, but mighty. I cannot – and never will – fully take credit for Edstutia’s successes. I am surrounded and supported by some rock star quality people, including our strategic partner, The Glimpse Group, which is a cutting edge XR development company in NYC.”
In a little over two years, Edstutia has grown into a force to be reckoned with, and the evolution of the metaverse and immersive tech are only going to drive these developments even further. This technology is constantly changing, shifting to incorporate increased functionality and improved capabilities. The impact on the platform as a whole will be incredible, with new features and venues added regularly and the opportunity to educate more people through instructors who understand how to integrate and leverage immersive technology for meaningful and impactful learning experiences.
What’s next for Dr. Janssen and her team? For one, they are officially launching their Instructor Certification program in Immersive Technologies (the first of its kind) in September 2022. They are on track to launch their first full-time B2C program in January 2023, and they continue to forge partnerships with new corporate clients eager to embrace the metaverse.
In addition, Christine has begun exploring the possibilities offered by NFTs and utility wallets. Her team is developing ways of enabling learners on the Edstutia campus to earn and spend virtual currency at interactive venues such as the campus store, Ed’s Café (the platform’s virtual café), and other exclusive experiences and venues that can only be unlocked with NFTs. Adopting cutting edge technologies and incorporating them on the Edstutia platform to optimise an immersive learning experience clearly demonstrates how the Edstutia team operates as true innovators. Many of the tools and functionality on the Edstutia platform are proprietary and therefore not available with competitor solutions. This will come as no surprise to those with an interest in the business – Dr. Janssen is hungry to knock out a lot of “firsts” in the worlds of education, learning and the metaverse.
For Christine, it’s clear that Edstutia is the culmination of all of the aspects of her career. Her passion for entrepreneurship, her background in education, her desire to push the boundaries of what technology can do – all of these play a crucial role in the success of the business. “I feel like everything I’ve done in my professional life so far has prepared me for this new venture,” she admits. “I know that education is the golden door to opportunity and upward mobility no matter where someone is in their career or life stage. My goal is to provide the resources and pathway to connect skilled talent with employers or help current employees increase their skills, contributions and value. Honestly, I love what I’m doing and anticipate spending at least the next 10 years building this business until we’ve made a real difference!”
Edstutia is a testament to Dr. Janssen’s ambition and determination to succeed, addressing real issues in education. She has created a business that is disruptive, a culture which is highly inclusive, and an approach to education that is squarely focused on improving the skills gap. Her success with Edstutia to date is clearly just the beginning, however. Technology is evolving at warp speed, and Christine is well positioned to evolve with it!
For further information, please contact Christine Janssen, PhD or visit https://edstutia.com