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Where learners, instructors and employers meet in the cloud: alumni startup, CoursePeer

U of T-developed company expands scope to launch Franchise University

Hadi and Marwan Aladdin graduated from the UTEST accelerator in 2012 (photo by Jon Horvatin)

The phrase “life-long learning” can be about embracing change or keeping your brain active as you age.

For University of Toronto alumni and brothers Hadi and Marwan Aladdin, it’s also the bedrock of their successful business: CoursePeer.

The Aladdins see a world full of students. Not just those in school but ‘learners’ more broadly: anyone who needs to gain a certification or update knowledge – from company branding to the guidelines for running a franchise.  

So the entrepreneurs developed a virtual space in ‘the cloud’ to bring a diversity of students and teachers together and to make those interactions count when it comes to landing – or excelling in – a job. (Read more about CoursePeer)

“What is most exciting is the way they are drilling down into the softer skills associated with education and trying to use digital technologies to tap into those in innovative ways,” says Joshua Gans, the Jeffrey S. Skoll Chair of Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Toronto. 

Gans says he’s had an eye on Coursepeer since the company’s early days and it’s the team’s ability to move in surprising directions that have led to their success.

“In a competitive space they have relentlessly pursued new opportunities and are still growing where others have fallen by the wayside,” says Gans.

The brothers developed their startup in 2012 through the University of Toronto Early Stage Technology (UTEST) accelerator for software-based ventures; the program, produced jointly by MaRS Innovation and U of T, offers mentorship, support and funding. (Read about U of T's vast network of accelerators and incubators, part of the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.)

Back then, the brothers' concept was small and focused on helping students get the most out of their education while earning credit for employable skills generally going unrecognized in the classroom such as leadership abilities or problem-solving skills. 

“As a company, CoursePeer was started to bridge the gap between students, instructors and employers,” says Hadi Aladdin, chief executive officer of CoursePeer. Students would get a good profile that employers can leverage during their search for soft skills in their potential hires.” 

Their mentors say the Aladdins’ commitment was clear from the start.

“They were two of the hardest-working entrepreneurs I ever met,” says Lyssa Neel, co-founder of UTEST and herself a seasoned entrepreneur. “Apart from being brilliant programmers, their capacity to put in the hours necessary to make a startup succeed was almost superhuman.”

But it was their creativity in envisioning future possibilities that set the team apart.

Mike Betts, co-director of UTEST, says that of all the young companies he’s worked with, Coursepeer has “done an outstanding job aligning strategic partners and stakeholders to their vision which is the bedrock of a great company.” 

CoursePeer expanded its market from virtual classrooms to businesses and governments, designing specifically for such industries as insurance, retail, oil and gas. The company established offices in Canada, the United States, China, Europe and the Middle East.

And then they turned their focus to franchising.

“Franchising is a mega industry and growing so fast,” says Aladdin. “Scalability is an issue when it comes to training, especially since franchises rely on their brand alignment between franchisees. 

Coursepeer partnered with National Franchise Group, which owns the Canadian master franchise rights for Signarama and Plan Ahead Events, to launch Franchise University. (Learn more about Franchise University)

"Training a new hire and retraining existing employees can be very difficult and a time-consuming task for a franchise operator,” says Ghassan Barazi, CEO of National Franchise Group. “Cloud-based approved training allows staff to be trained without losing focus on their daily operations.”

One of the first clients for which they’ll develop programming is Signarama; its franchisees will all have access to shared conversations, collaborations and training modules.

“Know-how transfer is crucial in franchising and we saw an opportunity there,” says Aladdin. With the established expertise of the National Franchise Group, and specifically its president, Ghassan Barazi, we can grow fast in that sector.”

Aladdin says the continual process of growth is what drives him.

“You know it when you are on to something big with your startup,” he says. “It’s when you’re hitting the milestones you set, and you are enjoying going to your office every day to work with your team and network of partners.”