A New Education Model, From Fuchs '10 and Khan '15

A few years ago, Aaron Fuchs ’10 was working in hedge funds on Wall Street. It paid well, but Fuchs felt that he could be doing some more rewarding. Long interested in education, he thought about the situation in his home country of South Africa. 

“One of the biggest challenges in South Africa is education, specifically in fields that are really relevant in the job market today,” said Fuchs, who majored in Mechanical Engineering. “You could do computer science at University of Cape Town and come out of a four-year degree with hardly any skills to be competitive in the new world we live in.”

He figured there had to be a better way to bring the necessary skills to the market. So two years ago, he founded iXperience, which Fuchs calls “a career accelerator” that accepts students each summer from top universities worldwide to learn to practical skills in an immersive environment. The program features an intensive four-week course and a four-week internship at a local company. Various excursions in the region are also part of the package.

It started with a focus on coding, inspired in part by Fuchs’ despairing that he hadn’t learned it while a student. He eventually taught himself (a “painful” process, he says). iXperience has since expanded its course offerings, including those on finance, business consulting and data science. 

The company’s core team includes Rafi Khan ‘15, director of education, who’s responsible for hiring top instructors and teaching assistants for the six courses offered by iXperience. The company has grown quickly. The company enrolled 180 students for its 2015 summer program and is expecting 300 for next year.

Khan started working with iXperience shortly after he graduated last May. The former director of HackYale, which provides student-run lectures on programming, Khan was torn between his interests in technology and education. iXperience seemed a good way to merge the two.

"It was ultimately important to me to push my boundaries and take a leap of faith for a vision I believed in," said Khan, who majored in Computer Science. "I love working on problems that are personally fulfilling, but also have a sustained impact in South Africa."

Fuchs and Khan spent a week at Yale earlier this month, talking to students and faculty about their program. Then they went on to similar recruiting efforts at Harvard, Princeton and Brown. 

The summer program is only one part of an ambitious plan. “Our vision for the next five years is to expand to potentially five countries or emerging markets and build local education programs,” Fuchs said, adding that Tel Aviv, Instanbul, Malaysia, and Thailand have been considered as potential sites.  “We hope that in five years that we might have 1,500 students from the U.S. coming abroad, and to be teaching 10,000 local students at the same time. We’re putting the steps in place to make that happen. “

As part of this vision, they’re planning a program for local South African students. It would be a structure similar to the summer program, but students would take all six courses for a full year.

“What we really want to do is make that program free because the challenge really is that students can’t afford this kind of education,” he said. “We want to create a program where we select 40 to 50 incredible students who wouldn’t be able to afford such a program and put them through this accelerator so they can go on to create start-ups, get involved in industry, employ other people. 

Fuchs said they’ve received a lot of interest from major South African companies who are seeking the kinds of skills taught in iXperience, but are struggling to find candidates who have them.

“One of the business models that the co will actually sponsor a students’ education through our program if that student then goes to work for the company after he learns all those skills,” Fuchs said.

Fuchs said some people – including himself at times – questioned his decision to leave Wall Street to start up an entirely new education model. But the feedback he’s gotten from students who have taken the program has been reward enough.

“It’s obviously quite ambitious, but the foundation is being set,” he said. “They did tell us to dream big when we were at Yale.”