No Jobs in Detroit? Bizdom U Startup Begs to Differ

2/14/12Follow @XconomyDET

It’s an oft-repeated Detroit lament: There are no jobs in this city and even if there were, the undereducated masses wouldn’t qualify for them.

Not so fast, says Antonella Solomon, chief operating officer of Launch Learning Group (LLG), a Bizdom U start-up launched in 2010. Her company has created a training course which utilizes innovative, tech-based tools to help people get licensed in the insurance industry—a seemingly recession-proof sector where the only initial qualifications a prospective employee needs is to be age 18 or older and felony-free.

“Most people don’t naturally fall into the idea of a career in insurance, but it is lucrative and, even in this down economy, insurance companies are always hiring,” Solomon says.

Solomon, a native of Detroit, graduated from Michigan State University in 2005. She moved back to her hometown and began working as an insurance agent before being bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. In 2007, she enrolled in Bizdom U’s two-year boot camp for startups. (The program was later modified to last about nine months.)

At first, Solomon was interested in starting a training course for nurses until she realized she didn’t have the skill set to pull it off. She already knew from experience that passing Michigan’s insurance licensing exam was a difficult feat.

“Most courses at that time only appealed to audio learners,” Solomon explains. “The courses also typically had very dry content. It was a brain dump.”

So Solomon and LLG co-founder Roger Williams, who has a background in education, worked with professors at Wayne State University to create a curriculum that uses interactive technology to engage students. Instead of the traditional paper tests, each class participant is given a student response clicker, a little remote control with simple buttons (A,B,C,D; 1, 2, 3, 4), with which to answer quiz questions. Solomon says the advantage to this method is that instructors get feedback right away—they can see which questions give the students the most trouble, which allows the instructors to hone in on those topics on the spot. LLG also uses the clickers for several learning games and to poll student response to intentionally tricky questions.

“We’ll go really deep on why or why not an answer is correct,” Solomon says. “The student response clickers show us a real-time breakdown of how well students are understanding the material.” Sometimes, Solomon and Williams will use that information to modify the curriculum in the future.

LLG also offers online study, either as a stand-alone course or in conjunction with work done in the classroom, which Solomon uses to further refine and update the curriculum as it tracks how much time students are spending online and which content they’re having difficulties with. Solomon even uses the data to help recruiters from the insurance companies LLG works with, including New York Life, AAA, My Insurance Expert (another local startup), and Lincoln Heritage.

“If a recruiter is interested in a particular student, our platform allows us to share information about how much time the student spent online studying or how committed they were to the program,” Solomon adds.

Solomon says the innovative methods are working: LLG graduates have an 80 percent pass rate the first time they take the licensing exam compared to the state average, which she says is 30 to 50 percent. Included in the class fee ($275 standard or $140 online) is job placement assistance upon course completion. Solomon estimates that 95 percent of LLG students find jobs after they pass the licensing exam.

“In my opinion, especially with the state of the economy, people should explore opportunities in the insurance industry,” Solomon says. “We work closely with companies to set up interviews and place people. We try to make it a win-win for everyone.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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