The modern university curriculum can seem like a labyrinth, with a wide array of academic options where any change of course can move the pieces that lead to a student’s graduation and future career. Finding a way through this maze is where Stellic comes in.
An integrated pathfinding platform aimed at equipping students with all the degree-planning information they need to graduate on time and put themselves on track to hit their post-university targets, it’s built from personal experience, built to solve a problem that affects universities throughout the world – and built by friends.
Currently being incubated at Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP), Stellic – formerly Metis Labs – is already being piloted at Carnegie Mellon University’s main campus and one other US university, with further US universities – as well as Qatar Foundation partner universities – interested in conducting a similar pilot project. Designed for elective-based university curricula, its modern interfaces and technologies allow students to seamlessly choose courses for upcoming semesters that fulfil their degree requirements, find out what switching courses would mean for them – academically and professionally – and make informed decisions at a pivotal, even defining, point in their lives.
The eventual aim is for it to be used by half-a-million students worldwide, with 50 universities on board by the end of 2018. But, for its creators, ambition is less important than attachment.
They are a team of friends – in fact, two of them are husband and wife – who, according to Founder and CEO Sabih Bin Wasi, “would still be together even if we didn’t have a startup”. Treating the development of their technology as a “class project” helped them to take the pressure off and keep things in perspective, without hampering their progress and impact – their software has been adopted by universities in the face of stern competition from more established tech players, and they’ve participated in the Alchemist Accelerator, one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious accelerator programmes.
It’s quite a journey for an idea that, according to Sabih, started off as “just a very uncomplicated degree-planner” triggered by the realization, during his time studying Computer Science at Qatar Foundation partner university Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (where all four members of the Stellic team graduated from), that there was no student-centric degree-planning tool available. So, unable to find one, he decided to build one.
Metis (now Stellic) was the result, co-founded by Sabih, frontend lead Rukhsar Neyaz and backend lead Jiyda Moussa, with scalability lead Musab Popatia joining later. “The motivation was that we were aiming to solve a problem that affected our friends,” says Sabih.
“In the US, 70 percent of students fail to graduate on time, and bad or confused degree-planning is one of the reasons. Stellic was created because we felt students needed a tool that would clearly outline their options, so they can organize themselves, adapt their plans, make the right decisions, and enhance their prospects.
“It answers important questions: what if I drop a certain course? What if I change my major? Will any of this affect my graduation time? Stellic lets you know what the implications of these actions are for your final goal – not just your graduation, but your ideal job. If a student’s plan is to be an engineer at Facebook by the end of 2019, Stellic will help them make the decisions they need to make in order to get there.”
As well as supporting students, Stellic triggers the attention of university staff if a student is falling behind, identifying issues before they become problems and allowing them to be addressed. “It’s a proactive tool that helps ensure people graduate on time, a goal that students and universities share,” says Sabih.
QSTP has been a major factor in Stellic’s success. Having graduated from its Accelerator program, the team were among the first to enter its Incubator, providing them with the support and funding they needed to turn their idea into a commercially viable product. “It’s allowed us to concentrate on the technology, making our product the best it can be, by removing the logistical challenges that can hold a new startup back,” explained Sabih.
“The environment at QSTP, and QF, is that you don’t have to make a lot of money before becoming an entrepreneur; you can do it straight from university. That’s so valuable, because the best time to take a risk is when you’re young. At QSTP, you see that the growing startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem in Qatar is real, not theoretical or aspirational.”
Wherever their journey takes them from here, one thing definitely won’t change for the Stellic team – the way they operate. “We don’t work in a formal setting; there’s no hierarchy; we have a real friendship, not a professional relationship,” says Sabih. “And that’s the way we’ve always been.”
“Essentially, we still feel like a bunch of college juniors, and that means none of this feels like work. If being in a startup feels like coming to work, and if you’re not excited about being part of a team of friends, it’s not worth it. That’s not the way we are, and it never will be.”
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Sabih Bin Wasi says: “Enjoy today, as if it’s the only outcome you’re looking for. If you look at the bigger picture too soon, and become too fixated on being rich and successful, there’s a danger of losing focus on what you’re doing and experiencing now. Take risks for today, not for the future.”