E[nstitute] Provides Hands-On Alternative to College

February 16, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2015
Epoch Times Photo
Kane Sarhan (L) and Shaila Ittycheria, co-founders of a new two-year apprenticeship program.

NEW YORK—”If you want to be the best, you have to learn from the best.”

E[nstitute], a 2-year apprenticeship program that provides an alternative to college, was founded on this idea.

In August, 15 young adults will begin a fellowship with entrepreneurs in the rapidly growing New York City tech scene. The ratio: one fellow to one entrepreneur. 

Co-founders Kane Sarhan and Shaila Ittycheria spoke with The Epoch Times about the new program.

Alternative to College

“We realized that for us and a lot of our peers, the college method and the traditional university method was very overprescribed.” said Sarhan. “A lot of kids are coming out of university with no marketable skills and really no ability to enter the workforce and provide value.”

In case anyone has misconceptions, the two aren’t against education. Sarhan earned a B.A. in international affairs at Pace University. Ittycheria graduated from Arizona State University, and later earned an MBA at Harvard Business School. 

“It’s not that we’re saying, ‘skip college.’ We’re just saying there are better, perhaps alternative paths,” said Ittycheria. “We’re not saying that you don’t need to learn. We’re just saying, ‘let’s make that learning more contextual.'”

In the program’s first year, fellows become immersed in the company’s day-to-day operations, learn how a business works, and gain exposure to multiple fields.

“They’ll start seeing and getting a sense of areas and specialties that are more in tune with them,” said Ittycheria, such as marketing, business development, product management, or sales. “We’ll get to know these fellows very well, and we’ll identify what path they want to deep-dive on.” 

While envisioning a global future for the program, the co-founders are committed to making sure things run smoothly for everyone involved, especially the youth fellows. 

“We have built this motto into the program, that is, ‘fellow’s first,'” said Sarhan. “And our core goal is to create an amazing experience for them. They’re going to be, quite honestly, our best word-of-mouth marketers.”


Through connections within the city’s tech world, the co-founders located 30 entrepreneurs—from companies such as Bitly, Pixable, and StreetEasy—who are excited to get involved in the program.

“We specifically chose these 30 [entrepreneurs] that focus around people development skills—people who actually are genuinely interested in fostering someone,” said Ittycheria. 

With double the number of entrepreneurs to fellows, Sarhan and Ittycheria have flexibility to make compatible matches.

The entrepreneurs will sign off on a fellow before accepting them.

“It’s also creating that relationship to where they’re emotionally and mentally committed to mentoring this person,” said Ittycheria. “We’re also bringing in top-tier fellows who really want to prove themselves.”

Future Growth 

“We have a really big desire to make this something that’s not just global from a geography perspective, but also spans across multiple different industries,” said Sarhan. “We also know that the best way for it to grow is for us to build a solid foundation and really get our first class right. Shaila always has a saying that she needs a cookie cutter before she can make cookies.”

Spending several years in New York City building the program, learning from experience, and slowly-but-surely increasing each class size, will prepare the program for expansion.

“Once we have that perfect model down,” said Sarhan, “we’ll be able to easily replicate that nationally.

Jonathan Stein, Betterment CEO

Epoch Times Photo
Jonathan Stein, founder and CEO of Betterment, and one of the entrepreneurs with the program.

Betterment is an online investment advisor and brokerage that combines the format of an online bank account with investment advice and seeks to help people make smart decisions with their money.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur with E[nstitute]?

I decided to become an entrepreneur with E[nstitute] as an extension of my support for NYC’s startup community. NYC is thriving with startups and entrepreneurs. It’s a tight-knit community of truly inspiring people and projects. This community was a huge source of support for Betterment in our early days as we sought to disrupt the financial industry with the next generation of investing. Many of our best customers are entrepreneurs, and it will come as no surprise that entrepreneurs formed a large base of our early adopters. The pace and creativity of the NYC startup scene is exciting and an incredible learning opportunity for those just starting out in their career.

What’s important about providing an alternative to traditional education? 

E[nstitute]’s approach of “learn by doing” is key. The experience of working in an entrepreneurial environment is not only valuable to someone looking to gain on edge on their peers, it’s also valuable to someone seeking direction in their career. I place a high value on the critical thinking I developed at Harvard and Columbia and the mentoring I received from my professors, but there are many lessons that can only be learned in a working environment—interpersonal skills, team work, and negotiation, in particular. It’s important for young people to realize that there are many paths to success. I would be impressed by anyone who had dedicated their time and effort to securing and completing an apprenticeship and learning new skills.

Is there anything else about E[nstitute] that you’d like to add? 

Attitude is everything. I’m impressed by people who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and help out where it’s needed. This may mean doing menial tasks occasionally, but it may also unexpectedly lead to new areas of interest. An E[nstitute] fellow will be exposed to everything at Betterment—whether it’s helping out with customer service, learning the skills for creating investing/personal finance content for our community, or assisting the development or product teams. Your help will be greatly valued and there’s a huge potential to grow your skills and knowledge. It’s an exciting time to be an entrepreneur in New York— Enjoy the experience! 

Find out more about E[nstitute] here

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber