The Tech Behind Successful Student Journeys - Greg Vanclief, President and CEO of Elentra
“Curriculum is at the heart of everything a university does, so it only makes sense to architect the solution we provide based on the core offering of the universities,” says Greg Vanclief, President & CEO of Elentra. The tech industry veteran and his team are on a mission to transform the delivery of higher education and nurture life-long learners through an end-to-end platform featuring a wide range of tools to support everything from scheduling to curriculum mapping to testing and accreditation management. The global reach of Elentra’s advanced education management system is growing in part because it allows universities to consolidate multiple existing software tools into one. Join host Michael Carrese as Vanclief provides a peek into the tech support underpinning successful student journeys, and shares his passion for entrepreneurship and transforming higher education.
Michael Carrese: Hi, everybody, I'm Michael Carrese, and today on Raise the Line, I'm happy to be joined by Greg Vanclief, President, and CEO of Elentra, a platform for teaching and assessing learners in the health sciences. Greg is a tech industry veteran who's led and supported dozens of technology companies as an executive, board member, mentor, and investor over the past couple of decades. And we're very happy to welcome you to the program today. Thanks for joining us.
Greg Vanclief: Oh, thank you, Michael, it's a pleasure to be here.
Michael Carrese: We always like to start by learning more about our guests and their career journey. So…go way back in the time machine and tell us what first got you interested in the tech industry?
Greg Vanclief: That's going way back twenty-five years ago or so. I finished up an MBA and was attracted into the tech industry through a mutual friend who eventually became a colleague who helped pull me into a company that was called Newbridge Networks at the time -- a big core network equipment provider based out of Ottawa, and loved it. It was a fantastic company, a multibillion-dollar publicly listed company that a few years later was acquired, and I had just a great experience there. I got my first taste of international travel and working in the tech sector, which was super exciting for a young executive. And that led to an ongoing role with the gentleman who was the founder and chairman and CEO of Newbridge and I spent the better part of two decades with him helping him grow his portfolio of technology companies by founding, creating, recruiting young executives to lead those businesses, and investing in those companies. I spent the better part of the last decade acting very much as a VC placing investments in those portfolio companies, managing the portfolio for him, and setting up new funds globally on his behalf. That was kind of how my career has progressed. Then along comes this opportunity with Elentra. It’s just about a year ago now that it came to my attention, and I thought it was a great opportunity to put all that experience to work.
Michael Carrese: We're gonna get into Elentra in a second, but I'm curious to know if what interested you most was the business side of things, or the tech, or was it - what was the blend like?
Greg Vanclief: I'm not an engineer. I'm not a tech guy by training. I'm actually a political science grad, who then went back to do an MBA. So no, for me, it was very much the business, the commercialization, the relationships, that attracted me. I'm a finance and commercial guy. That's where I find my passion and skill set is best applied.
Michael Carrese: And now you're applying it at Elentra. So why don't you give folks an overview of that, and what your mission is there?
Greg Vanclief: Yeah, so Elentra’s vision is to transform the delivery of higher education and nurture lifelong learners, and we deliver a platform, an end-to-end platform, that we call an advanced education management system. Within our platform, we can track students' competency and accreditation management. At the center of our platform is our curriculum mapping capability that allows us to - and separates us from the rest of the market, frankly - to map and manage curriculum really well at the center of all the functionality of the platform. It ties into every aspect whether you're talking about scheduling clinical rotations, accreditation, or evaluation and testing. It all comes back to curriculum mapping, and that's our roots.
We've become in time the leader in competency-based education. Over 60% of the schools in Canada are using Elentra today for delivering their competency-based education. It's allowed us to really develop ourselves as an industry leader in that capability, and we're thrilled to have a growing relationship with universities worldwide, actually, within our user base.
One other thing that I think would be of interest to your listeners, Michael, is that, some of them may be familiar with the Elentra Consortium, which is the roots of Elentra Corp. The platform itself has, almost fifteen-years worth of development history in it. It was built by schools for schools, and that very much ties into our roots within the Consortium, which continues to exist today and is a very valuable partnership for Elentra Corp as we continue to advance that technology, continue to build on the capabilities together with the consortium schools and advancing the state of the technology and commercial part, commercial manner, with the broader market.
Michael Carrese: I want to get a little more into the curriculum mapping, particularly because you mentioned it as a differentiator. So for one of your schools…well, maybe you should define that for people first, and then tell us what it allows them to do?
Greg Vanclief: Sure. So we have a tagging capability within the platform that allows us, within all the databases right across the platform, to relate capabilities back to the curriculum. Universities deliver curriculum, and everything they do is based on that. They bring students in to receive the curriculum. They test based on the curriculum. They evaluate capabilities based on the curriculum, and they report to accrediting bodies based on the curriculum delivered. Curriculum is at the heart of everything a university does. So it only makes sense from a platform perspective to architect the solution we provide based on the core offering of the universities that are using the platform. And so we allow universities to tie-in learning events, learners, evaluation tools, schedules, as well as all of their responsibilities as an institution for reporting up to accrediting bodies…they are all powerfully interconnected through this tagging capability that ties into the curriculum mapping tool.
Michael Carrese: I was noticing that one of the benefits that you talk about for Elentra is improving student outcomes. Explain how that would work?
Greg Vanclief: I think that ties into CBE, competency-based education, is the way that we're building out our capabilities going forward. It's becoming the de facto standard, in most health science programs, particularly medicine, but it's expanding into other disciplines as well. We're starting to see it in nursing, we're starting to see it in veterinary studies, as a couple of examples. When you look at trying to evaluate learners based on both academic as well as practical skills and trying to tie all of that into some kind of a measurable metric that you can report against, it becomes very complicated. And that's where we see ourselves delivering a lot of value to our university clients because they're able to eliminate multiple other tools and platforms they may be using and consolidate into one fully integrated end-to-end tool that allows them to advance the learners in a manner where both those delivering the education and those receiving the education have full visibility of where they stand at any given time.
Michael Carrese: So obviously, COVID was a huge disrupter to higher education, and education at all levels. And as you're mentioning, the clinical placements piece of it which is unique to health sciences schools got very difficult and complicated. So talk a little bit about, first of all, how the pandemic has impacted your company, but then how you have been able to help schools navigate through these challenges.
Greg Vanclief: Our company actually was just created a little over a year ago now, January of 2021. As I mentioned earlier, our history is with the Consortium, but as a company, our birth took place in the midst of this pandemic. The first year of the business was really run with a dispersed virtual team. Because we didn't have a physical location, we were freed as an organization to recruit across the country and internationally. And so our core team originally was very dispersed and by definition, remote workers. It was only in January of this year that we established our first physical office here in Kingston, Ontario, which is where our headquarters is located. About half the company is based in this area. So it made sense to put a physical office here. But we've very much continued working with a hybrid work model. We have employees that come in every day, we have some that come in a couple days a week. We use meetings and events to attract staff into the office, and it's very much become kind of a center for our local staff -- as well as our visiting staff that are coming in from out of town -- to be able to come together as a team, get to know each other a little bit better, spend some quality time together in a workplace, and it's contributed to the emerging culture of the company in a very productive way.
We're lucky because adopting that hybrid work model is an easy thing to do for a software company. There are other businesses where that's not so easy, where you have to have a physical presence in order to be able to perform the work that's required to keep the company going. In the case of universities, our clients, our software is cloud-based. We offer a mobile application as well as, obviously, remote access to the platform for both learners and administrators. We have a really well-developed customer success and account management team that's able to respond to calls day or night from universities. So given international time zones, that's a requirement. So we've really built our delivery and service model based on trying to be responsive to people that are working in a non-traditional manner and that's proved to be very successful for us. At universities, we're deploying things like remote proctoring and online testing and evaluation. It was a natural fit for us. We were a ready-made tool for that. And so, very much from the perspective of our business, the pandemic has brought our customer base closer to our business model than maybe it would have been otherwise.
Michael Carrese: We hear that a lot of from guests -- that they wish there wasn't a pandemic, but it has been good for business -- folks that are in the ed tech space and medical technology space and digital healthcare, generally.
So, I have to take advantage of your vast experience here. We have an audience that's interested in entrepreneurship, and we talk to investors and VC folks a lot. If you could boil down, you know, a couple of key ingredients to tech companies that ultimately are successful,
what are those?
Greg Vanclief: That's a great question, Michael, and one that I've been asked quite often in the past: 'How do we develop a plan or a program to create entrepreneurs, successful entrepreneurs?’ It's not just entrepreneurs. The key there is success. Because we all hear the often-used statistic that eight or nine out of ten startups fail, and that's the facts. Entrepreneurship by definition is taking risks and having a high tolerance for taking risks. It's not for everybody.
The first piece of advice that I would give is; if you're attracted to entrepreneurship because you like the idea of having a CEO title and being able to tell people that you're a founder, or that you have your own startup, that's probably not the right motivation because you're more than likely going to fail at least once, if not multiple times, over a career of entrepreneurship. There's more to being an entrepreneur than just being a manager. Management skills are certainly a piece part of the toolset that's required to be a successful entrepreneur, but there's so much more to it than that. To create and develop and establish a viable business requires a lot of hard work. It's not at all easy, and there are challenges that come with it that aren't taught in most business schools. I did an MBA, and I put a lot of value on that MBA, but it certainly did not teach me how to be a successful entrepreneur. In a lot of ways that comes with experience, knowing how to commercialize technology and establish a viable business is difficult, you have to see it and live through it to know what's required to be successful in it. Some people are fortunate and are able to make it work the first time out, but it's the rare case that's able to do that.
Michael Carrese: We've had physicians-turned-entrepreneurs on the show who say that one really key thing -- as they think about how their medical school experience and training impacted their success as entrepreneurs -- is that they could sit for 25 hours at a time and do work.
Greg Vanclief: Very much so. I mean, perseverance and a passion for what you're doing is a critical piece of the puzzle, right? And a desire to just keep plowing through no matter what the challenges are, knocking them down one after another, and being able to get through those and move on to the next challenge without being beaten down and discouraged, certainly plays a big part in it.
Michael Carrese: As you may know, we're a teaching company and love to fill knowledge gaps and love to hear from our guests what they see as a gap in knowledge -- it could be myths, could be misunderstandings that are important to correct -- and direct us to make a video or do some communications about that. What would that be for you?
Greg Vanclief: Well, I think, Michael, we just talked about it actually. There is a role in society for entrepreneurs, that is, I think, underestimated and in many respects, undervalued. And I think our learning institutions could find ways to better teach entrepreneurship. Also our private and public sectors can do much more to stimulate and support entrepreneurship. There's a need for risk takers in society. It is small businesses where innovation originates, it's where job growth is created. It's not in the large companies. It's in the small, fast-growing businesses, and that is, for me, an area where a lot of focus needs to be applied. We need to create more entrepreneurs, more people that are willing to take that risk over and over and over again in order to drive innovation forward to continue to create those jobs, to create opportunities in society and really move us forward.
Michael Carrese: We have a lot of medical students and health professions students in the audience, and also folks early in their career. What would be your advice just generally about approaching their careers and having a successful career?
Greg Vanclief: So for me, Michael, it's taking risks. Try things that are outside your comfort zone and stretch yourself. When I took that leap to enter the tech sector, I was coming out of a government job. I had a good stable job with a nice pension and, you know, really, really nice work hours, but I took a risk. I did something that was way outside my comfort zone, and it literally opened the entire world to me. I spent the next twenty-five years traveling the globe, meeting incredibly fascinating people from all levels and doing things that I never really had contemplated doing before. It has led to a successful career, an exciting and interesting career and I have as a result a network of friends and colleagues that spans the globe. I've loved every minute of it. That would be my advice: take those risks, try something different, and it doesn't necessarily need to be exactly what you've trained for either. It could be a fit that you fall into unexpectedly, but be open to it and accept the challenge.
Michael Carrese: I've heard others say when an opportunity presents itself, nine times out of ten, the right answer is to say yes and do it.
Greg Vanclief: Yeah, I would agree. I would agree.
Michael Carrese: So, as we wrap up, is there anything else you'd like to say about Elentra or yourself, or the tech industry and investing?
Greg Vanclief: I would just say that Elentra is an exciting, fast-growing company. We have an incredible team that we're working with here. We have very loyal customers that have been using Elentra, as I said, in some cases for over fifteen years. The advantages we provide are measured in better students, which I think is the goal that we should all be holding ourselves to, and that is that's pretty much what we're all about here at Elentra. I'm looking forward to continuing to work with the company and the industry and see everything that we're able to do together.
Michael Carrese: That's a great note to end on. Thank you very much, Greg, for being with us today.
Greg Vanclief: Thank you, Michael. I appreciate it.
Michael Carrese: I'm Michael Carrese. Thanks for checking out today's show and remember to do your part to flatten the curve and Raise the Line. We're all in this together.