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Hamilton County / Higher Ed / Education & Workforce Development

Startup aims to take on '11th commandment'

April 26, 2013

Carmel tech firm owner Ron Brumbarger grows his own talent, and now he wants to help other businesses do the same.

Brumbarger on Thursday unveiled plans for his startup Apprentice University, an alternative to what he calls the 11th commandment: Thou shalt go to college.

“We think there’s a better way,” he said at the kickoff event at Launch Fishers.

The program is still in its formative stage, but Brumbarger said he has a couple dozen local employers interested in the idea of providing on-the-job training to Apprentice U. students, who will be paid for their work.

Students enrolled in the 30-month program will be given a series of assignments—and mentors—within the business network, and Brumbarger said they will leave with the real-world skills employers need. He hopes to start making matches by the end of June.

Brumbarger came up with the idea after growing frustrated by the effort required to get traditional college graduates up to speed at his Web development firm, BitWise Solutions.

“I’m not interested in new grads,” he said. “I’ll grow my own every day of the week.”

Apprentice U. will not award degrees, which Brumbarger insists have become more of a rite of passage for students than a value proposition. He cited the prevalence of unemployed and under-employed college graduates as proof.

“What other thing would you spend $100,000 on and not get a warranty?” he said.

In addition to the professional assignments, Brumbarger said students will take a “handcrafted” array of online courses like logic, rhetoric and entrepreneurship. The only requirement for everyone: an old-school acting class, which he said will help students become comfortable in the different roles they will be asked to play in life.

Brumbarger has experience developing young talent. His 7-year-old BitWise Fellows program allows high school students to run their own Web development firm, handling everything from sales and marketing to product delivery. The companion On Deck program is targeted at even younger students.

Fellows President Isabella Penola is a home-schooled sophomore who manages a staff of about 10. The 15-year-old Zionsville resident is an aspiring writer, but she jumped at the chance to expand her horizons. It is her first job.

“It is a really unique opportunity to get some real-world experience,” she said.

Brumbarger mentors students, but he takes a hands-off approach to the business.

“I don’t clean up after them or bail them out,” he said.

He hasn’t had to: The BitWise Fellows business unit posted a $2,200 profit on $6,000 in first-quarter sales. Annual revenue is close to $30,000.

Fellows “graduate” from the program when they finish high school, but several have landed part-time jobs at BitWise Solutions.

What’s your take on Apprentice U. and Brumbarger’s grow-your-own strategy?

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