Guillermo Elizondo and Gerardo Saenz got their start in edtech when they were still in high school. Between weekend soccer matches and their own school responsibilities, they designed a platform to help students from low-income families learn to code. In college, they developed the first version of Territorium. Initially a tool for tracking college credits, they saw the broader potential for helping students keep track of and receive validation for the skills they built through courses and other activities.
Increasingly focused on career navigation and the unique needs of adult learners, Territorium entered the U.S. Department of Education’s Future Finder Challenge to reimagine career navigation for adult learners. As one of five finalists, Territorium is now participating in a six-month virtual accelerator to build and test its digital career navigation tool. We spoke with Territorium’s CEO and co-founder, Guillermo Elizondo, along with Julie Murphy, Vice President of U.S. Operations, and Senior Product Manager Heather Carle, to find out more about the team’s platform and accelerator priorities.
What does the Territorium platform offer to users? How does it work?
Guillermo: Territorium is a digital platform that captures skills developed through prior learning and experience in a portfolio, and maps them to job market requirements. We create an ecosystem of learning and employment. And based on the data that learners provide, we show how far they are from getting a job of interest and, using AI, recommend learning pathways to help the most learners get the jobs they want. We regularly pull data from tens of thousands of job postings, and use multiple data aggregators and natural language processing to create a platform that works like a Fitbit for careers. The same way a Fitbit tells you how many steps you need to take, Territorium’s CareerBit technology shows learners how to increase their probabilities of getting a job, based on the data they input. Learners can explore multiple occupations based on the data in their profile, and CareerBit tells learners things like, “you are 40% towards becoming a software developer, but you are 80% towards becoming an account manager on the business side.”
In addition to helping learners explore occupations and understand the steps needed to apply for them, Territorium also creates a comprehensive learner record (CLR): verifiable sets of data about skills, learning, and employment. We issue that record in a digital wallet and ensure that the user is the owner of their data. We currently have over 12 million users worldwide.
You initially designed Territorium to support students in college. How did you come to focus on adult learners?
Guillermo: We created Territorium in college. At first, we started by thinking of college students like ourselves. Then we found that what we were building could also help people working in a company understand how they could grow within that company or develop more skills for better jobs or salaries. We discovered that Territorium would make sense not only for higher ed students, but also for anyone who wants to improve their outcomes in the workforce. In the United States, there are now 40 million people with some college but no degree. That number continues to grow.
We are providing those 40 million people the tools to navigate their careers. We need to start focusing on adult learners, and we need to find ways to reskill people and show them career pathways. In the past, you thought about your career when you were in college and maybe that would be your career for life. But now, we’re changing careers all the time, so we need a tool to help people understand how to do that.
What do you find most rewarding about designing a career navigation tool for adult learners?
Guillermo: Working with adult learners is really the beginning of the transformation of the higher education system, or in general, the education system. Because working with adult learners is thinking about lifelong learners — building a tool that will be with a learner throughout their life. If we start doing that, it will also work for higher ed students, for high school students, for anyone, because we’re building something that will help people through their whole lifetime. That’s what’s really interesting and exciting about focusing on adult learners, because we can create flexible pathways. It also becomes an interesting incentive for universities and community colleges to start capturing more adult learners, and that incentive will encourage them to create more flexible pathways for everyone.
Julie: Working with adult learners and then working with all the providers in the adult education ecosystem provides an opportunity to create a rising tide to lift all boats. The impact could be amazing.
Why did you decide to enter the Future Finder Challenge, and what have you found most valuable about the accelerator?
Julie: The Future Finder Challenge has provided the opportunity to focus on adult learners in terms of their user experience. This challenge provides us a chance to spend quality time with our partners in workforce development and understand the user experience of adult learners in terms of their personal situations, their complexity, their diversity, and the ecosystems that surround them. And the challenge is very specific about improving tools; I love that about the Future Finder Challenge.
We’ve put together a complex system. So how do we make it super simple, and build a level of confidence in adult learners to use our system and tools in a way that — as they partner with an education provider, a training provider, or an employer — builds their confidence through a demonstration of the work they’ve done.
I also feel like the boot camp was valuable, including the interaction with the other finalists. Each of the finalists has a different approach to serving adult learners, so it was valuable in terms of gaining exposure to different thought processes and having immediate access to experts. It was a wonderfully compact opportunity to gather a ton of data in a couple days. The access to expertise is something that as you enter a market or a segment or a product category is one of the toughest hills to climb. The accelerator has certainly lowered that bar significantly and made it super accessible. Frankly, it takes out some of the risk because the curation of experts has happened already.
Working with adult learners and then working with all the providers in the adult education ecosystem provides an opportunity to create a rising tide to lift all boats. The impact could be amazing.Julie Murphy
What are your specific goals for the accelerator as you work to hone your tool for adult learners?
Guillermo: Mostly on our side, we are working on making sure that the UX is right for adult learners. We strongly believe in the concept side — that CareerBit makes sense — but really, what we are working on is how to create a nice user experience and connect more with the job market. We want employers taking a look at profiles and interacting with the users. Also, on the other side with the partners at the institutional level, we are creating more flexibility in available career pathways. If we think of Territorium over the next two or even five years, we’re trying to become the company with verified sets of data about learning and employment. It will be not like other platforms on which everyone is a co-founder and everyone is an investor and everyone is an influencer. Here, we are building sets of verified data to help people advance in their careers.
Heather: Like Guillermo said, we’re really focused on the UX enhancements. We provide a platform for learners to search careers they might want to explore and actually find job opportunities. So we’re trying to enhance that exploration process, making it simpler, providing some additional information about careers, and making more options to search through job listings. That will help learners when they complete a program out of a workforce development center to secure a job or at least know what career path they want to be on. With the boot camp, it was really helpful to hear feedback from adult learners and from some of the experts on the factors we should think about as we develop that front-end UX design. But also, it provided a lot of context for us to think about outcomes for the administrators that we would be working with at workforce programs — to help them measure outcomes. So that’s the secondary piece we have. The boot camp gave us clarity on how we can help workforce development centers document success at the end of their programs and help learners think about the skills they’ve built.
Looking ahead: Judging and beyond
At the end of the accelerator, finalists will submit their market-ready tools and accompanying proposals, and present at a live demo day this fall. A judging panel will review the submissions against the Stage 2 criteria and recommend a slate of winners to the Department. One grand-prize winner will receive $500,000, and up to two runners-up will receive a share of at least $250,000, to be announced in fall 2023.
Beyond Stage 2, the challenge will support winners into 2024 as they deploy their solutions. To help promote further innovation, challenge resources and videos will remain available to all entrants as well as to those who did not participate in the challenge. Innovators are encouraged to continue using these resources to develop new digital tools that reimagine career navigation for adult learners.