Each year, $30 billion are spent on incoming freshmen scholarships in our country. However, research indicates that several educational institutions are struggling financially and student success is questionable. Student loans continue to increase, and degree attainment rates for 4-year college are around 34 percent.
Far too many educational institutions are on probation or at risk of losing their accreditation. The loss of accreditation is a serious issue for students, institutions and the community. Senior leaders and their respective board members are under tremendous pressure because of an enrollment crisis in higher education. The business case for a quick turnaround is clear. There is a need for comprehensive end-to-end enrollment strategy and data-driven decision making to improve the business health of our universities and institutions.
MANBOAT enhances student success and increases net tuition revenue for institutions. It is an essential tool to close the college attainment rates as the demand and need for skilled talent grows higher than ever before.
Name of company: Virtue Analytics LLC
Business Start Date: 2013
Number of Employees: Our team size varies from project to project and consists of full-time and part-time consultants.
Name: Vikas Mehrotra
City you live in: Woodbury
College attended: Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Wisconsin-Madison
Q. What led to this point?
A. I have two decades of field experience in business, consulting, analytics with an engineering background. My love for math, consulting and entrepreneurship led me to start Virtue Analytics back in 2013. I have a Master’s of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a second Master’s degree in Engineering Logistics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before starting Virtue Analytics, I worked in strategy & operations at Deloitte Consulting and in category management at Supervalu.
Q. What is your business?
A. Virtue Analytics solves critical business problems using advanced analytical techniques and predictive modeling. We are an emerging Midwest EdTech startup headquartered in Woodbury. We are the world’s first applied intelligent and AI enabled, end-to-end platform that allows educational institutions to increase net tuition revenue and improve student success by optimizing scholarship and admission processes and decisions.
We use advanced machine learning techniques and models to solve critical business problems. Our product platform is called MANBOAT. MANBOAT is an acronym for Merit and Need Based Optimization and Allocation Tool. MANBOAT helps optimize enrollment decisions and improves student outcome. Using our product institutions are able to minimize cost over-runs and reduce student withdrawals.
Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. We rely heavily on our network in the Twin Cities. We recently graduated from the gBeta program and Eric Martell and Adam Choe from Gener8tor were phenomenal. Both 1MC and Gener8tor teams have helped us strengthen our local network immensely. We are also fortunate to have a strong team of advisers who believed in us right from the beginning and have continued to support us through our journey.
Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. A few years ago, I obtained an opportunity to work with an education institution. We were contracted to build predictive models to help their business. While working on the problem, I realized that the enrollment challenge is much bigger and decided to pivot the company from consulting to developing software to solve this challenging problem. We developed a prototype product and shared it with several industry leaders, receiving excellent feedback that gave us enormous confidence. We realized there is a marketplace for our product MANBOAT and went on to build the platform.
Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. The more substantial macro issues in higher education give rise to additional micro problems, which significantly impact a college or a university meeting its strategic goals; issues which we help institutions address strategically and mathematically. Each year post-secondary institutions increase tuition fees by 3 to 5 percent but are still struggling as businesses. At the same time student success is also questionable. Student non-completion and student loans are increasing, putting tremendous pressure on the student’s and their families. Addressing the two-sided problem and leveraging the power of data, the MANBOAT platform helps optimize admission and enrollment decisions which increase net tuition revenue and improves student success.
Q. Where did you pivot in your company’s journey? What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?
A. We started as a boutique consulting company driven by data analytics. Our preliminary focus was broad, but almost three years later we narrowed on a critical business problem; when we realized that we have an opportunity to address a gap in the current marketplace, which could make a significant difference to institutions and the students they serve. This realization coupled with feedback from Paul Merkling at MEDA (Metropolitan Economic Development Association) in Minneapolis and our core belief steered us to pivot from a service organization to a product company.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. Just like every business we have had several ups and downs. When I launched my firm, I was told nine out of 10 startups will fail and the odds were against me. We had challenges during our initial years, but staying on the course, continued family support and keeping a positive attitude has helped me fight through. I have learned valuable lessons along the way, and I feel that I am a stronger and better-prepared entrepreneur because of those early hic-ups.
Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?
A. We have a niche product that serves a very well-defined need in the marketplace. We are the world’s first end-to-end AI enabled platform for gatekeepers of admission and enrollment administration departments at educational institutions. Our business need or area of opportunity is in sales, marketing and branding of MANBOAT. Equally important for us is enabling the company with the right team members. We are continually looking for motivated, energetic, collaborative individuals who prioritize integrity and client success.
Q. How are you funding your business — organically, angel or VC investments?
A. We are in the process of raising funds. We want to close our seed round this quarter. The
1MC Saint Paul and Gener8tor network has provided us with access to several angel investors and VC’s in the greater Minneapolis, St. Paul area. We are in active discussion with several angel investors and VC firms.
Q. What would be success for your business in the next 2-3 years?
A. We are on track to serve needs of 30 to 100 institutions over the next two to three years. Seeing our clients succeed and improve their business and student outcomes will be our success. We plan to grow our team to 25 to 40 in St. Paul/ Minneapolis by 2021.
Q. In your opinion, what does it take to be a great entrepreneur?
A. My dad always said give me “your best,” and I will give you “my best.” I think life is such that if we give it our best we will get the best in return. I feel great entrepreneurs have mastered a way to get the very best in their life.
Q. How did 1 Million Cups St. Paul help you? Did you get valuable feedback? Did you get connected to resources? Did you pivot because of the experience?
A. 1 Million Cups St. Paul helped us expand our local network. We gained valuable feedback on our product. Access to the St. Paul entrepreneurial community, library material and additional resources is equally beneficial. Thank you for your help and we encourage all our peers in the startup community to check out 1 Million Cups St. Paul.
Read the full article from the Pioneer Press here.