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- Tuition-free SV Academy could be a game-changer for people at a career crossroads, especially immigrants and low-income students.
- The program prepares people for business development Representative roles at tech companies.
- Admissions into the three-month program is intensely competitive, with an average of 4,000 applications a month for 100 seats— but once applicants are in, they’re 100% guaranteed a job upon completion.
- Business Insider spoke with SV Academy founder Rahim Fazal, plus graduates Alba Molina and Ocean Lompo to understand what it takes to get in and succeed.
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For students at a professional crossroads, the business development fellowship that SV Academy offers could be the catalyst for a higher-paying career. The tuition-free program promises every student a job in business development upon graduation.
With an admissions rate of 2.5%, getting into this program is tougher than getting into Harvard, Yale, or Princeton for undergrad.
While SV Academy is headquartered in San Francisco, the program is completely online and part-time. It’s been around for about three years, growing 30x in the past two years alone.
Every week, more than a thousand applications come in. At the end of the month, 100 out of the 4,000 applicants are selected to participate in the program for three months.
Fellows are selected based on how critically they need the program, and on how they’d handle the business development responsibilities that the job prepares them for. Program administrators screen applicants for 200 different competencies. The most important one, according to the founders, is their commitment to where the job can take them.
Business financial make money capital trading Opening the doors for their younger selves
Rahim Fazal and Joel Scott are Silicon Valley insiders who were motivated to meet the need for human-facing skills within tech with the humans that could help. They had the connections built up from 15 years of work within Silicon Valley to launch SV Academy.
They also both happened to be immigrants who came from non-traditional backgrounds: Fazal ran the social media startup Involver before it was acquired by Oracle in 2012, and Scott had climbed the ranks at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, all the way to VP of Operations.
“We wanted to open the doors for our younger selves, or people who didn’t have the industry work experience, didn’t have insider connections, may not have gone to the right school,” Fazal told Business Insider. “Could we do that through some combination of skills and equipment in a way that we could provide the most access?”
They could, and they did. SV Academy has been around for more than three years now, and it’s hit over $40 million in combined full-time starting salaries. The program laid its initial foundation through the relationships that Fazal and Scott had in place with previous employers and investors — but new investors continue to come aboard.
Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary of Sound Ventures are two recent backers.
“We’re excited to partner with SV Academy, a team that’s democratizing access to life-changing careers and economic opportunity with a truly unique approach — this is education that’s hands-on and tuition-free, with a job on the other side,” Ashton Kutcher, Co-founder and General Partner at Sound Ventures, told Business Insider via email.
Business financial make money capital trading What it takes to get in
SV Academy relies on the satisfaction of the employers that hire from the program— so delivering quality applicants to employers is key for retention.
“Our business model, because we don’t charge students anything, is novel,” founder Rahim Fazal told Business Insider. “What it means is that if the employer is our customer then we have to make sure, again, that we are really preparing these individual job seekers to do these roles in an exceptional way, because otherwise their tuition will not get reimbursed.”
The organization is funded through external investors, like Kutcher, who open up more seats for applicants.
The onus is on SV Academy to choose the students that are most likely to stick with the program and excel at their future jobs.
So far, they’ve succeeded spectacularly: Fazal says more employers want students from the program than the program has students.
“So in this very moment it’s very clear that we’ve kind of hit upon a pocket of opportunity that is much greater than where we initially thought we would be in this moment,” Fazal said. “So I think in this very moment our hardest job is to make sure that we find the very best applicants and then supply them with the level of support that they need so that they can overachieve relative to employer expectations.”
SV Academy screens applicants for about 200 competencies. Fazal shared the following specific criteria with Business Insider:
- Develop a personal and contextual connection of the importance of diversity (ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) in a sales development representative role within the high-growth tech industry.
- Asks questions to support deeper understanding and curiosity before responding or proposing solutions.
- Execute outreach orchestration and timing using three different channels for at least ten (10) target leads.
- Demonstrate command of the steps, content, and timing required to conduct hand-off to account executives.
Out of the 200 competencies, Fazal identifies the most interesting one as the proven ability to adjust to a difficult environment. Successful candidates usually demonstrate their ability to overcome difficult circumstances, and they see the opportunities afforded by the fellowship as crucial to their future job success.
They can also balance the rigor of the part-time program with current professional and personal responsibilities.
“Motivation is enormous,” Alba Molina, a graduate of SV Academy, said. “I actually have a friend that’s going through the program right now and it’s really difficult because it really is a lot.”
Molina balanced a full-time job, hour-long commute and all with the weekly courses, graded assignments, and coaching sessions. Applicants usually learn of the program through successful graduates, like Molina, as they share their stories through social media.
‘That just sort of cascades and we’ve found that to be the most powerful way of driving interest and applications,” Fazal said. “And I would say 95% of people who do apply are unfamiliar with this job or the career path, so they’re hearing it for the first time.”
Successful applicants are usually aware of where the fellowship can take them — which is a difficult item to measure. However, with the tens of thousands of data points that the program now has, the founders are better able to calibrate for this.
“We’ve found that individuals who have a commitment to the outcome, because they really believe in the potential of the job and the career path to truly transform their lives, are able to break through walls and they’re able to come up the learning curve very quickly,” Fazal said.
Business financial make money capital trading Stories from graduates
Students like Molina speak to the success of the program in helping immigrants, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community gain access to professional opportunities.
“What motivated me was really just honestly the fact that I got into the program in general,” Molina said. “Then number two, the fact that I would have this job at the end of it.”
Molina is an immigrant from El Salvador who was undocumented until the age of 19. She went on to complete a double major in philosophy and anthropology from Binghamton University in three years. After completing SV Academy, she secured a job as a sales development representative at Credly, a human resources verification service.
“What university guarantees you a job at the end of your graduation?” Molina said. “Absolutely none.”
Ocean Lompo is another example of someone who successfully completed SV Academy after a long journey that started in West Africa and traced through Taiwan before finally landing in Silicon Valley— and he’s overjoyed about where he ended up.
“I love my job right now and I love the team and the mission of my company, which is very in line with my personal story as an immigrant,” Lompo said, adding, “I think I will continue doing it and just growing in my role and taking on more responsibility within the company.”
Lompo works as an immigration consultant at Bridge, where he helps connect immigrants with jobs in the US.
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Fazal says that graduates like Lompo inspire even more applicants who could benefit from SV Academy.
“Folks like Ocean, as they become successful, then they have the confidence to go and tell their story through social channels, to communities that they have access to that are hungry for this type of opportunity,” Fazal said, adding that potential applicants are “not just hearing it from a robot, a machine or a stock spokesperson or something, they’re hearing it from somebody who they can relate to.”