Kenzie CEO: $100M Investment to Fuel Growth

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Chok Ooi is the co-founder and CEO of Kenzie Academy. Chok Ooi is the co-founder and CEO of Kenzie Academy.

The co-founder and chief executive officer of Indianapolis-based Kenzie Academy says a recent $100 million investment will help the coding school scale its model to serve students throughout the country. The school this week announced the investment from Community Investment Management, an institutional impact investment firm based in San Francisco. Chok Ooi says the funding will allow Kenzie to double down on its operations both at its Indianapolis campus and online, creating new jobs in the process.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Ooi said Kenzie's nationwide expansion effort began in January.

"One of the biggest limitations before this was access to capital for us to really scale the program," said Ooi. "So now, with this investment from CIM, we now have the firepower to enroll a lot more students than before. We also have about 7,000 students in our application pool so this allows us to now enroll and serve those students nationally."

Kenzie says one of the major efforts that will be boosted by the CIM funding is a redesign of the school's Income Share Agreement program. The school says the investment will allow it to lower both the monthly repayment rate and the maximum amount students could pay, which will be effective for both current students and alumni. 

An ISA is an alternative to student loans, in which a student pays a school back with a portion of the income they receive after graduation. With Kenzie, Ooi says students who earn $40,000 or more annually after graduating, they contribute 13% of their income for 48 months to Kenzie. He says the ISA model allows Kenzie to create a more sustainable program that is tied to student success.

Ooi says a year ago, Kenzie had fewer than 10 employees in Indianapolis. Today, the school has nearly 50 employees and Ooi says they are hiring very aggressively. "Since we're headquartered in Indianapolis, a lot of the hiring is going to be here in Indy and the goal is to be able to scale both our instructional team and scale our student success team so that we can provide kind of a high-touch education to students nationally from Indianapolis."

Kenzie says its goal is to attract 10,000 new students over the next three years, both in Indianapolis and online. Ooi adds there will be a strong focus on the Midwest and the South in an effort to attract more tech companies to the region.

Ooi says, long-term, the coding school looks to add more programs to its offerings.

"Today, we have programs in software engineering, user experience engineering and digital marketing. But then, going forward, we plan to launch essentially a lot of new programs where today there is a very high demand for people with those skills but where traditional universities are not producing enough talent to meet the market needs. We're looking at things like data science, cybersecurity, big data, QA engineering and a few others."

Ooi says two-thirds of Kenzie's students were making less than $30,000 per year and graduates are getting entry-level jobs paying $50,000-$90,000 annually in the Midwest.

"Our goal is to retrain more people whose jobs are being automated away or being disrupted by the economy into these new economy jobs where the pay is much better, there's a lot of high demand and those jobs are not going away anytime soon."

Ooi says Kenzie's nationwide expansion effort began in January.
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