This article was written by Rahul Bhattarai and originally published on NZ Herald.
Diana Sharma and her business partner Alan Kan talk to Rahul Bhattarai about their unique partnership which led to their educational startup, Mission Ready.
What does your business do?
Mission Ready is a tech career development agency. Our courses are NZQA approved and we help individuals transform and launch tech careers through our accelerator programmes.
In less than five months of full-time study, individuals can go from no experience in tech to becoming a software developer, UX designer or tech founder (entrepreneurs who want to build/develop their own tech product).
What’s your background?
Diana: I come from a completely different background, I spent several years at Unitec and had a unique education perspective having been in various roles developing new education partnerships with education providers globally.
I started in hospitality and then worked at multinationals in sectors like energy and telcos before transitioning into corporate training. I was involved in looking at new industry partnerships and alliances to create new education models. The impact of these programmes directly on the lives of individuals and their families inspired me to do things differently and that led to where I am today.
Alan: I have a background in tech with more than 20 years of experience, but I studied accounting as well as Information Technology. During my first month of internship as an accountant, I realised I was more interested in tech than accounts.
After three years into my job at Unisys in 2001 I went from writing programming codes to designing software.
What was the motivation for starting it?
Diana: The tech industry is faced with a growing skills shortage and the traditional education pathways would not solve this. On the other hand, a large number of professionals from different industries are looking to change or upskill into advanced careers in tech. There wasn’t a smooth transition that bridged the gap from skilling to employment which is why we created New Zealand’s first tech career accelerator.
Alan: When I was working at Unitec about 10 years ago, I created a few papers which proved to be very popular among the students and that got me thinking about whether I should start my own business.
I have always been passionate about teaching and meeting Diana who had a similar interest was a perfect partnership.
Our motivation for starting this is simple, the impact we can make to transform careers, make dreams come true and all of this with the highest return on their investment and lowest risk to change. We make changing to a tech career easy.
How big is the team today?
Diana: We are a team of seven with a large extended team of industry mentors and facilitators who are contracted in for specialist training.
How was your business affected by Covid-19?
Diana: For us the Covid-19 was a blessing in disguise. A lot of people wanted to switch careers and we saw our enrolment numbers grow. And being a tech company it’s easier for us to work remotely than for another type of job.
How long has your business been around?
We have been around for a little over two years, our first accelerator launched in November 2018.
What’s your focus for the remainder of the year?
Diana: Our focus is on working closely with the industry to launch new tech career programmes which would fast track people into employment.
We’re actually about to launch a very exciting partnership with Salesforce – Silicon Valley’s leading Customer relationship management (CRM) service provider – to develop 300 skilled entry-level Salesforce Developers to combat the skills shortage experienced across NZ Salesforce partners and customers.
These career accelerators are a real win-win. Retrained workers are a sweet spot for hiring as they’ve been through the process and procedures of working within other companies and can get quickly up to speed in a new team – and they’re super motivated by changing career.
What are your long-term plans, and where do you see the brand in five years?
Diana: In five years, Mission Ready will completely transform from what it is today. Our goal is to become a household name in New Zealand and be able to provide more courses catered to people from wider demographics.
How does your business stand out in comparison to other businesses in the market – what makes it unique?
Diana: Our point of difference is that – it is not only the fastest tech career transformation programme but also the only one that includes real projects and real experience with tech companies while being mentored by industry professionals in work.
Our programmes make it easier for businesses to access diverse talent by allowing them to tap into talent they probably wouldn’t have encountered because many of them have not trodden the traditional path to tech. We help those highly motivated candidates get a foot in the door. Each year we offer scholarships to Māori and Pasifika candidates.
Normally our course starts at $2500 per person. However, this year we made 42 scholarships available. We have five more scholarships to give away as part of our September intake.
Mission Ready has trained more than 200 candidates since it launched.
A large per cent of our candidates are successfully re-training from careers such as marketing, teaching, business operations, performing arts, dentists, nurses and many more.
How are you marketing your business?
Alan: For our marketing are actively posting on social media, like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. I do a lot of public talks like at university, career forums and Techweek NZ.
What does the competition look like in this market?
Diana: There are a number of small competitors in the market, but none that deliver what we offer. Our programme is highly cost-effective instead of doing a similar degree at university for over a three year period, we have our students do it within nine to 19 weeks of full-time study. This saves a lot of time and money. Which encourages people to change careers if they are looking for one and we have a good track record of employment post-study.
Some of our students have gone into working at places like 2degrees, Datacom and PwC.
What advice do you give to people wanting to start a business?
Diana: Start a business for the right reasons, with heart and soul, and you will never feel like you actually have to work another day in your life.