Disco’s Customer Stories highlights the world-changing impact customers are making with their respective learning communities.
BatteryMBA is the product Simon Engelke wishes he had during his education in battery sciences.
Simon Engelke, a PhD-trained battery engineer, has had a front row seat to the exploding sector of battery production and business. It’s why he, along with Chief of Staff, Amandine Bressand, created Battery Associates, a consulting firm and innovation investment lab that, as of last year, introduced BatteryMBA, its educational arm aimed to revolutionize the necessary training around the battery industry.
In their own words, “a combination of in-depth technical and business knowledge, from lithium-ion battery cell production to clean tech market trend analysis” makes up the accredited BatteryMBA curriculum over a span of 12 weeks. Since its inception just in the last year, dozens of leaders in the battery industry have completed the course and regularly sing its praises.
Before you start thinking that this training sounds hyper-specific to a very niche audience, Simon and his partner Amandine Bressand estimate that, in Europe alone, there’s a need to upskill and train over 800,000 people in the industry by 2025, so the industry is growing very rapidly.
The BatteryMBA curriculum is designed to give current leaders, prospective employees, and even investors holistic training around the technical and business aspects of battery production, but it’s flexible enough that anyone can find value in the lessons.
In the year since BatteryMBA was created, Simon, Amandine, and the staff of lecturers have intentionally created dynamic course content that’s meant to evolve over time. They’ve learned a few other lessons that academies, bootcamps, and other micro-schools can take with them.
4 lessons emerging academies, bootcamps, and micro-schools can learn from BatteryMBA's meteoric rise in their industry
Be brave and address needs for niche
In a quote from Simon himself, the team learned quickly that having a very specific niche and an audience to match isn’t always a bad thing for your learning community — even if growth is your main objective.
“I think it's a bit scary to go after a niche, but I think it also really helps to know your market.
"When we started, we had an even smaller niche in mind like PhDs, similar to myself, in the battery sector. Then we were amazed at how this niche grew. Now, we have people from investment firms and different sectors in the program and sometimes, you realize your niche was quite much bigger than you thought it might even be," says Simon.
To quote another great founder, Dan Martell, the riches are in the niches. It’s okay to create a product that hasn’t been created or serves a population of people that otherwise don’t have this resource. What’s most important is knowing your market, knowing what they need, and creating a product that serves those needs.
Continued learning is inherent for most roles, so make it integral to your learning community
“I think that the need for ongoing and continuous training is inherent to the battery sector. We know that the battery sector is fairly new, depending on how you look at it. But essentially, a lot of the research is still in development, and a lot of the new technologies and its commercialization is only happening now,” Simon says. His example should speak volumes to all learning community founders: ensure your curriculum and your community are set up in a way that allows for new information to lead conversations and learning. Even the brightest creators don’t know everything, so it’s important to create both a malleable product that can take on new information and a community that thrives on it.
“Creating an ongoing or continuous learning journey was very much so a non-negotiable because we really deem that to be important for aspiring battery professionals.
"There's a series of ways in which we help guarantee that, but one of those is by facilitating and ensuring that we build a community of battery professionals and enthusiasts,” says Simon. “We actually enable a space for that kind of organic knowledge exchange to happen. It's been an incredible thing to also see the community take on some of that knowledge exchange on its own.”
Naturally, Simon knows the battery sector best, but founders and operators of bootcamps, academies, and micro-schools should be focused on creating continual learning opportunities to enrich the lives of learners who genuinely want to more. That organic exchange of information comes from really knowing people and knowing how to recruit the right learners:
“I think the really strong focus was on the people. We have the C-level of the biggest OEMs in this world and other big companies joining us, and they really want to learn about what's state of the art and what's going on right now, and also share some of their own experiences.”
“As long as you're focused on the individual and see how you can help them to progress, people are really going to grow with you over time. We have seen people join at one given time, but they stick around because they want to keep learning. They want to keep growing. And as long as you consider the process and the individual, there will be so much growth happening.”
Create a community that is representative of the world you want to see
Diversity and inclusion is a huge opportunity for learning communities. When you’re casting a wide net to find the most eligible learners, you’re not always finding the most diverse group of people.
That’s why it’s so important to make pointed efforts to increase diversity and make these opportunities available to those who wouldn't otherwise have it. At BatteryMBA, this comes in the form of a scholarship:
“We built a scholarship to essentially ensure that we can have those diverse forces in the program. Unfortunately, it doesn't always happen organically. So the scholarship was just a way and a method to do outreach to underrepresented profiles in the sector. That's something we're very proud of and will continue to do. The sector is diverse. A training like this and its cohorts should be representative of that.” – Amandaline Bressand
There are tons of ways to curate diversity within your cohorts that go beyond scholarships. Exploring additional forms of financial aid like income share agreements, installment plans, or flexible class schedules can also get more feet in the door. Beyond payments, creating spaces for groups to convene within your community and providing additional training can make DEI efforts more fruitful.
Provide value before, during, and after someone applies to your program
Simon admits that, while he was constantly looking for ways to provide value for learners once they’ve completed BatteryMBA, it was listening to Eliot Gattegno from On Deck that led him to develop other opportunities for learners — even those that couldn’t join the program otherwise.
This led the team to create an Open Case Study program. Both those in and out of the regular BatteryMBA are invited to join this extension of the course in which those already in the community can present their own case studies to an audience. “It's not a conversion funnel. It's really about just providing something extra. And of course, people can think ‘Okay, this is great, I want to get the full deal and join the program.’ But we also think about this as a kind of [free] service.”
From this Open Case Study venture, the team has been able to scale their marketing to offer podcast episodes and Clubhouse gatherings, two channels they find immensely valuable for attracting and building trust with their listeners and ideal learners. This way, they can both market the BatteryMBA course while also providing learnings and teachings to the masses.
How BatteryMBA is leveraging the Disco platform and community to scale its learning community and provide value for the battery sector
Disco is the purpose-built OS for learning communities.
BatteryMBA was no exception.
“We moved to Disco because we needed a platform on which we could run the program, which would minimize the time and effort we put into the admin, but also would increase our time in terms of content creation,” says Amandine, BatteryMBA Chief of Staff.
“So for us, we had reached a turning point. Disco was honestly the best platform we looked at in terms of enabling us to do just that. Everything is accessible on the platform itself.”
More importantly, Simon goes on to mention, is how seamlessly Disco integrates with other tools they are already using. There’s no learning curve to understand an entirely new tool; with Disco, you can keep some of the tools you’re already using (if you need them) while integrating them with the platform:
“The main thing for me is really about notifications and reminders. I think that's a massive time sink. To always have these regular scheduled emails to send—follow ups is the key, right? We really want to make sure that people don't forget about sessions. The calendar is a massive thing to help learners not forget. I remember in our early days, creating these Google Calendars was an absolute pain. [With Disco], other people can download it themselves in their time zones. You found a way to integrate both Google calendar as well as Outlook, which is important, especially for some of our corporate clients.”
It’s with these functionalities and the ability to seamlessly integrate existing functions with the Disco platform that BatteryMBA sets sight on their goal of tapping into Europe’s battery sector, expected to grow to 800,000 in just under three years. Through thoughtful curriculum and a curated community, we have no doubt that BatteryMBA will continue to scale their academy on Disco.