I have built many internet businesses and in all of these ventures the challenge is always the same: hiring the right people. And of course I am not alone in this. I know that my friends who are also active internet entrepreneurs, people like Niklas Zennström, Tariq Krim, Marc Samwer, David Sifry, Anil De Mello, Sergey Brin, Janus Friis, Loic Le Meur, Brent Hoberman, Lars Hinrichs, and others see hiring well trained smart employees as probably the most important element of their business strategy.

Unfortunately, the best schools in the world have not adapted to the digital world and are not able to educate students for the digital future. Presently there’s a serious mismatch between what digital employers want and what universities train people for. It is for this reason that I am thinking about starting the Digital Academy of Madrid. At this moment this is just an idea which came out of a conversation with Alejandro Piscitelli who runs Educ.ar who had it and it is in the early exploration stage. This idea also comes from my 11 year teaching experience as part time professor at Instituto de Empresa.

The Program:

The Digital Academy of Madrid would be a 2 year program starting with 50 students per year and growing to 100 students per year. The program would be a Master´s in Digital Studies but while undergraduate studies would be considered a plus in the admissions process there would be no formal admissions criteria. The Digital Academy, for example, would be happy to take David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, who quit high school at 15 and is now 21, as a student…or maybe….as a teacher.

The Digital Academy would be in English and all professors but the Dean, would be part time. Other than teaching they would be active internet professionals who may come to Madrid for short periods to teach crash courses.

The 2 year program would consist on a first year that is common to all students and would be heavily oriented towards programming in all the most common languages currently in use to develop digital properties as well as a deep understanding of the functioning of the Internet.

For their second year students would choose among three specializations: hacking, building, sharing (programming, design, business). The Hacking route would aim at producing the best programmers out there. The Building Route would aim at producing project managers who can put together complex internet based products. The Sharing Route will be chosen by those students who want to learn more about how to manage the business aspect of digital ventures, how to fund them, grow them and make them profitable.

The Cost:

The cost of attending the Digital Academy in Madrid will be similar to the cost of American colleges but for 2 instead of 4 years.

The objective:

Graduates would get jobs in high tech companies or start their own internet companies. Professors at the Digital Academy would get both the ability to train, recruit and invest with the students.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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peter on November 23, 2007  · 

very smart idea. world, not only the digital one (!), needs this – very urgent….

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Marc on November 23, 2007  · 

I want to be a student off this school, but, why not in Barcelona?

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Juan Freire on November 24, 2007  · 

This idea remembered me a related idea I developed in Reinventando los MBA en la era digital: Master in the Business of Attention, and some afterthoughts in

Tras reinventar los MBAs. ¿Demasiado simple, demasiado radical?

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mikola on November 24, 2007  · 

Nice idea. But here is some healthy criticism.
First, I think the situation is maybe not that bad on the world scale. I think, there are enough smart people in “the best schools in the world” and they are doing quite great in innovations and knowledge, also in digital world. Most of them have possibilities to get somewhat of “MBA” studies during or after graduation: Stanford, Oxford, Imperial College, TU Munich, ETH Zurich, etc. And what is also quite important they have lots of fundings and the best professors, but of course their innovations are not tailored to the three-five years VC’s revenue plan on an internet start-up, and this is rather good.

Second, I can imagine you can train great programmers in two years, but a project or business manager in one year, and that after 3-4 years bachelor studies? Are you kidding me? It sounds like you are going to let them know a bit more about business process (kind of mini-MBA with focus on IT), but the problem of a “well trained smart people” on the company side remains the same, because each company needs its own specially trained and smart people. Of course during that studing process you can carefully choose employees based on their talents and capabilities, but that rather because you can see them in action or be advised about them by experts you personally know. For that reason the idea of course is good and is also applied by some corporations. But, otherwise, in general, I have some doubts that graduated students from Digital Academy will really have big advantages in digital employers eyes compared to their colleges from “the best schools of the world”.

Anyway, I wish you good luck in this initiative, and hope to see good news soon.

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neoyorquina on November 24, 2007  · 

Great idea but what makes you think that the caliber of student you’d like to attract would be interested in doing this degree in a city not known for digital prowess?

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Martín Alejandro Carmona Selva on November 24, 2007  · 

I agree with Marc. Why not in Barcelona?

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Guillermo Lutzky on November 24, 2007  · 

Martin: It is a great idea.

Some quick 2.0 suggestions from a teacher from Buenos Aires

1. Articulate each semester as a module itself, to allow the school to be used as a “semester abroad” for top students and teachers from US and Europe universities (to build social networks of talented developers and entrepreneurs)

2. Offer full scholarships to third-world top students. Money should be raised easily to help talented students. It is also a way to articulate the project with your Foundation.

3. Give a a touch of transparency to the school. Classes, projects, and workshops should be blogged or streamed. And the papers, products and discussions (including the professors discussing the curricula) should be posted to the Internet, to become “open education”.

Best regards

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Simon on November 25, 2007  · 

This posting realling appealed to me. I founded an internet company at 20 and went back to school at 22… this is an idea i roughly have since long time because even though the school i applied back had an excellent level, it wasn’t at all the program i really needed/wanted.

Hope this idea will turn into reality.

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Martin Varsavsky on November 26, 2007  · 


Just to clarify. My blog is a blog of ideas not of announcements. I publish ideas like this in Spanish and English to get reactions from my readers who like you are generally smart and insightful. In the end this blog has killed more ideas than it has promoted. But the ones it has promoted have tended to be very good.

I do believe that a group of amazing students could be attracted to the Digital Academy for a 2 year program that turned them into Digital Leaders. I just have to think harder as to how to do this.

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NatC on November 26, 2007  · 

Your idea reminds me of the Knowledge Media Institute. You might want to have a look at how they designed it: http://kmi.open.ac.uk/

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mikola on November 26, 2007  · 

Martin Varsavsky,

I’m well aware of your blog content, and even more, I’m a big fan of your entrepreneurial and social activity. this is why I wished to hear some good news about the idea.
Project-like learning in teams supervised by best internet professionals, as well as variety of innovative and intense state-of-the-art workshops will definitely bring a lot of value in your academy to let it stand out.

I’m a bit concerned about tuition fees of American level – something not very common in European universities (besides UK), and lots of scholarships for some amazing but poor students would be required. Probably a better investigation in that area is needed also.

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Santiago Doblas on November 26, 2007  · 

There’s a lack of quality and knowledege in IT studies. What you study has nothing to do with what you need to know for you everyday tasks. This means you can study hard and you can only apply a 10% of what you studied at university. And what happens if you have an entrepeneur spirit? You simply don’t have the knowledge or tools to have self confidence…

And there is surely a gap between what you study at universities and what you learn at Instituto de Empresa…

I wish you good luck and hope this project will be society-orientated…

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jockum on November 26, 2007  · 

Hi Martin,
there is several initiatives in the US on this. give Marc Canter a ping on this- I believe one of his board members has poured a great deal of money into this (in the us).

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Oliver Thylmann on November 26, 2007  · 

In general I do like the idea, even though I am starting to wonder if you can “educate” the amazing developer, great project/product manager or the business manic. The thing is that these people are not there to study in a normal way.

Some of the best developers I know did not really become what they are through studying but through working in the field and working next to good people, or interacting with them. It’s a spirit thing. Same counts for a project/product manager, again a little bit sick, a little bit crazy, always out there, … . The business person probably just needs to darts next to great people.

It really comes down to another idea in my mind. Get together some of the greatest entrepreneurs out there to fund a quasi non-profit that has enough money to buy several houses world wide, fully equiped, plus several free world wide airplane tickets, plus a few other fun things. Then you have a committee to find out who can get into that “club”. Everybody in there, maybe 1-2 years full time, then only on a holiday kind of basis, will be interacting with a lot of great minds to talk about ideas and such. They have the free time to code a bit, try out working in any business for a few weeks (that belongs to a club member), build something with other members , … whatever gets built will belong 24% of the club, 76% to the builders, who can get in further investment into their idea, mostly by club members who have quasi right of first refusal.

You kind of build an ecosystem for entrepreneurs to flourish. Old members can stay at the houses for e.g. 4 weeks a year to recharge, get new ideas, … . Through the airplane tickets you can allow people to get ideas from all over the world.

Admission needs to be done through something like 5 people vouching for the person getting in. Some 360 degree appraisal system needs to be established to get the people out that are slacking … but the really good people will just not be able to, that is the point.

The education system will be invaluable, the club could be continuously funded through exits in the companies started out of the club, as no money would ever be given back to first starters.

Problem is you need some real money for this, and not too little of it.

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Joe H. on November 27, 2007  · 

I think your best contribution would be to keep founding (and funding) interesting and relevant high tech start ups.

In addition to employment, there are also people learning at FON. It should not surprise anyone if a number of them go on to set up their own start up. That is certainly how it happens in Silicon Valley.

Is this something you have ever tracked? In addition to the companies you have founded, how many other conpanies have been founded by people you once employed?

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Inaki on November 30, 2007  · 

Why don’t you start an “Y Combinator” in Spain? with your experience and contacts it might be more useful. For example, a summer academy, where you invite some of your colleagues with a good track record in tech entrepreneurship and you select a group of participants to be part of the academy during 1 or 2 weeks.

And since you have office space, you could even offer a room in your offices in addition to limited amount of funding to the winning ideas. These teams will benefit from the funding, the team formation, business insights from you and your partners, and the possibility of being colocated with your employees (which all have an entrepreneurial mindset). In the end, people need role models and being next to you will be enough to find the motivation to start companies.

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Martin Varsavsky on December 2, 2007  · 

Will look into this Iñaki, thanks!

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Jose Miguel Cansado on December 2, 2007  · 

The idea is very good. Certainly great people are needed to start-up great companies.

The Digital Academy would be excellent to attract and train that talent.
But what about the other scarce resource for startups: Investors.

How to attract Venture capital to Madrid? The Digital Academy would help, but would it be enough?

BTW, good hints on the format in Guillermo Lutzky ‘ s comment

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