[E]nstitute's Apprenticeships Give You Skills You Can't Pick Up In A Classroom

Education startup [E]nstitute is linking young people with jobs--no college degree required.

Kane Sarhan and Shaila Ittycheria at the N.Y.C. cafe where they devised [E]nstitute. | Photo By Axel Dupeux; Shot on location at Lillie's Union Square, N.Y.C.

Not long ago, the notion of a talented student skipping college would have silenced many a family dinner table. But that was back when a college degree held the promise of work. With more than half of current grads under 25 jobless or toiling in low-wage posts, it's clear the university model isn't for everyone. Enter [E]nstitute, an apprenticeship program designed to immerse aspiring professionals in their local startup scene.

The company believes that the skills necessary to succeed in today's business climate can't always be acquired in classrooms. It's not unlike the ethos espoused by other alternative approaches to learning, ranging from adult tech and entrepreneurship academies to online educators. It's also a belief that [E]nstitute's founders developed firsthand.

Michigan native Kane Sarhan, 25, was a Pace University student in New York when he waited on the table of Jacqui Squatriglia, partner in the iconic Coyote Ugly chain. On the spot, Squatriglia offered him a job with the company. His role quickly grew and after two years, Sarhan landed a gig with mobile ad platform Buzzd (later called LocalResponse). There he met Shaila Ittycheria, 30, a Harvard MBA in charge of hiring--a position that exposed her to the inadequacies of a university education. "I took so many interviews with grads of top schools who couldn't talk through a rational argument," she recalls.

She and Sarhan became friends and came to realize that he had gained more professional ground working closely with two startups than he ever could have as a student or an intern. "What I got from working with smart, successful people was a model education," Sarhan says. Last fall, they set out to create a not-for-profit that could replicate Sarhan's experience for others.

They hatched a two-year program that links apprentices aged 18 to 24 with N.Y.C. tech shops such as link-sharing utility Bit.ly, men's lifestyle guide Thrillist, and personal-investing outfit Betterment. Each member of this fall's inaugural class of 15, culled from more than 500 applicants, will work full time at one of the startups, with the ability to switch to another after the first year. They also will be given writing assignments, attend lectures, and take part in weekly dinners with experts. The program will be tuition-free, covering housing and providing a small stipend; to fund it, [E]nstitute is raising $1 million from foundations and private donors.

"We had two reasons for participating," says Neil Blumenthal of online eyewear hub Warby Parker, one of the 35 companies partnering with [E]nstitute in exchange for free employees. "Selfishly, we're growing quickly and think they'll be able to identify talented individuals. More altruistically, we believe businesses should be active problem solvers."

Sarhan and Ittycheria are already eyeing [E]nstitutes in other cities. They hope that successful apprenticeships will attract new support and that happy entrepreneurs will pay it forward. But if the program doesn't lead to gainful employment, a fallback plan exists: As 22-year-old applicant Kent Kwame Henderson notes, "College will always be there."

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7 Comments

  • Leslie A Dwyer

    Why limit this opportunity to people up to 24 years of age?  There are people...just like me...that seek to contribute, learn, grow in tangible, meaningful ways...that are in their 40s and seek this opportunity.  Plus, life and opportunity is not all about NY.  Expand to Chicago.  Thank you for your consideration.  Blessings... 

  • janjamm

    "The company believes that the skills necessary to succeed in today's business climate can't always be acquired in classrooms."  The crux of the problem is that we consider education exclusively as a tool for producing workers. The deeper idea of education is intrinsically different from producing workers. Education is about exploring ideas, developing critical thinking, understanding the inter-relationships of society through history, science, literature, language. It is about developing mastery and a life-long love of knowledge. As a nation we poo-poo the idea of the mind and its cultivation, because, "like, how's that gonna get me a good job?" To the degree we continue to diminish the value of higher education for our children, we will subvert the thoughtful, wise, civil society we long for.

  • Donrua

    "The crux of the problem is that we consider education exclusively as a tool for producing workers."

    I don't think you frame the issue appropriately. the problem is that college is being used for both, to expand minds, and to prep people for jobs.  However, they don't make it clear to the incoming teen what the optionsare. Undergrad programs do an appallingly bad job of the latter. Many in education are devoted to the noble goal, for what educator doesn't get a thrill up their leg and inspiring young minds to think, vs prepping them for a job at those borish, sometimes evil, job-work-thingies. If the universities were honest about the education a student would be getting, and employers had another route to filter and find the brightest young people, universities would lose 75% of their tuition, or more. As a lifelong mensan, honor student, yada yada, I don't need a university to teach me how to think, to grow my mind, for educations sake alone. Seeking engaging conversations, enjoying art, inventing widgets in my garage are all things I can explore without taking on $80K in debt as a 22 yr old. In fact, I would be stupid to do so, and more people are realizing that. The current system is illogical, unnecessary, and often a deterrent to dreams, rather than a fueler of them.

    There should be a handful of brilliantly instructed national university systems, all provided online, by panels and revolving teachers with immaculate skills and styles, available to the masses at 10% of the cost of current amphitheater class enrollments. Satellite branches of these national univesities could be staffed by energized grad students for hands on labs and coaching. Every physics student should be able to take courses online from a panel of top PhD's from Stanford, MIT, and similar, whereever they live in the WORLD, for a small fraction of the cost of today's classes. It's good for our best and brightest teachers, good for students, etc.

    Today's education market is inefficient, and inefficient markets get beaten by superior frameworks and technology. Those who wish to learn in the world deserve education that is geared more to their objectives, whether it's a job, or mental fitness, at a cost that they can fund with a part-time job or less because there are 50,000 students enrolled in a single course. Schools are the biggest laggards in the use of technology I've seen. Computer assisted education should be much farther along that it has come so far, but we are about to turn that corner. Yes indeed.

  • Daniel Bizurc

     [E]nstitute -   RE:"College will always be there."  .... After Deployment comes Employment...  I have thousands of Brothers and Sisters who are looking for employment every year.  Many don't have college degrees, but they are "Active Problem Solvers". 
     Self-Motivated Productive Members of Society...  Incase you've missed it, I'm talking about Veterans...  Oh, and their College (G.I. Bill), will be there...  
    Futhermore, Not every Boy grew up saying "I wanna get a Criminal Justice Degree!" and Not every Girl grew up screaming "I wanna Nursing Carrer!"... This is the Truth, no matter how many Fly-by-night colleges cram those commercials down your throat...
    The newest Generation of talent is ready to suit up in Business Attire, and I'm preaching to the Choir- to make this point:
    Everything that is learned in the Military is through an Apprenticeship...
    Hire a Veteran, You'll be Glad you did...

  • HedtkeInstitute

    Re; Apprenticeship Skills Give You Skills You Can't Pick Up In A Classroom...  Yes this sounds similar to internships and yes that obviously isn't in the classroom.  The best part of having an education is realizing that there are many ways one can acquire that education. While there are many forms and sources for that education, rote learning in the classroom is never a substitute for practical hands on.  Certainly you need a foundation, however, it is my opinion and based upon my own experience that you can put almost anyone with a modicum of intelligence into almost any position -especially in the business world, mentor and train them in that same position for one year and they more likely than not will be able to do perform in that position at an acceptable level of performance.  In other words, be honest with yourselves here, someone who has been working in the same job for the past ten years can be easily replaced by someone trained for a year to do that job.  Wouldn't you agree that it is ludicrous to hear of job requirements for applicants that need as an example; a Masters Degree plus ten years of experience including three years in systems analysis, five years in Java, six years on a IBM system 38, seven years of customer service, four calling birds and a partridge in a pear tree?  Then WHY are these idiotic job requirements out there?  SIMPLE, the company that needs to replace the person who currently has that position, really has no idea what skills are currently needed for that job and probably if anyone could meet those requirements it would ONLY be the person that they are seeking to replace.  It's like if you only need transportation, why in the world would you go about purchasing a Bentley while all you need is a VW Bug to get you where you need to go?  It is obvious at least to me, someone who does not adhere to the "human resources" philosophy, that if you have no idea what the position you are trying to fill entails, fill up as much of the job requirements white space with as much gobbly-gook that sounds impressive, in order to satisfy management that you are at least trying to do what was asked of you to fill that position.     

  • Lisa

    I love this. As someone who took the nontraditional route of working post-HS and later deciding to go back to school as an adult, I can attest to the fact that my work experience (which isn't remotely related to what I'm doing now) has been much more useful to me in my career. 

  • Enstitute

    If you believe in what we are doing, help us reach our $1MM funding goal by contributing $1 here: http://indiegogo.com/enstitute

    Everything helps us get one step closer to building a new future for generations to come!

    -Kane, Shaila, & The E[nstitute] Family