Talking with an EdTech Innovator

MEM student Rupa Bhagwat recounts her recent opportunity to meet with wildly successful education technology entrepreneur John Katzman.

For a student interested in education technology, having the chance to talk with John Katzman is like an aspiring basketball player getting a shooting lesson from Stephen Curry.

Rupa Bhagwat, a student in Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program, took advantage of just such an opportunity recently when Katzman visited the University.

Rupa BhagwatKatzman has taken three education technology companies from concept to nine-figure revenues. While in his early 20s, he founded The Princeton Review, an SAT-prep company he eventually took public. Then he founded 2U, which raised the caliber of online higher education well before a pandemic made it more fashionable.

Katzman, 63, now leads The Noodle Companies, which he founded in 2010. Noodle works with students, families, and universities to lower the cost of the best higher education programs online and increase access for more students. 

“It is very important to talk to industry leaders as a student to know how they think, to get inspiration, and to take a step toward entrepreneurship,” said Bhagwat, who came to Northwestern from India in August. “Most students have great ideas. However, they do not make it a reality because they do not have appropriate guidance. People like John can help students who have ideas.”

Bhagwat is one of those students. 

Before starting in the MEM program, she worked at a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company to develop a product that supported teachers as it delivered content to students and improved their experiences. When she looked at Katzman’s latest company, she saw how well it was linked with prominent universities, but she didn’t see it joined with a common software provider.

So Bhagwat used her time talking with Katzman to suggest collaborating with software companies that provide the gateway for students to learn online. 

Bhagwat said the chance to have face time with entrepreneurial successes such as Katzman is one of the things that makes the MEM program so special. She said such opportunities are like job interviews, which will make it easier for students when they’re actually applying for real-world positions. 

“This can take away the anxiety of talking to C-level executives, which is helpful in tackling interviews for big companies,” she said.

Bhagwat said she came away from her talk with Katzman impressed and more informed about the industry she’s interested in entering. Not only did she pitch her idea, but she listened to Katzman explain Noodle’s vision and strategy to target the right customer segment. 

“He knows the market well,” she said. “He has great empathy for students, faculty, and the overall educational system.”

Bhagwat said her talk with Katzman won’t be the last she has with a top industry executive during her time in the MEM program.

“Such exposure is an eye-opener sometimes for people with only one or two years of industry experience,” she said. “I am looking forward to having more conversations with leaders from diverse industries so I can get experience and know how they work on a high level.”

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