Juan Pablo Mena is a Civil Engineer with a specialization in AI (artificial intelligence). For 7 years he has been the CEO of uPlanner, a Chilean EdTech that reduces costs, administrative times and improves student retention through software based on algorithms, big data and artificial intelligence.
Recognized by Unesco and Microsoft for its contribution to higher education through AI, uPlanner has already helped 3 million students in 16 countries around the world and has allowed institutions to receive 30% more students without the need to invest in structure.
Back in 2012, Juan Pablo Mena, Rodrigo Hernández, Carolina Arce, Cristian Espinoza and Wilbaldo Bravo, co-founders of uPlanner, saw the need to incorporate technology in educational institutions, which were facing unstable software, errors in schedules and other problems that made processes inefficient and ineffective.
“At that time our team consisted of 5 to 7 people. Today there are more than 60 of us in uPlanner and this year we aim to double that number“, says Juan Pablo and explains that the platforms help higher education institutions to plan, organize and manage not only the infrastructure, but also their academic plans and deliver a better experience to students: “It is fundamental for universities to make decisions based on data collected by our solutions. This data, isolated and without a specific analysis, might not have much value, but with the technology we have developed, we give it a value that allows us to strengthen and optimize different parameters”.
Among this data, he points out, is that of “student life”, which includes academic, attendance, financial and other aspects that allow them to create predictive models based on AI, so that the institutions can visualize in time who are the students who could drop out of their studies and, in this way, see the possibilities of supporting them: “This platform, which is called uRetention, is part of our Student Success suite, which is also composed of an application called uExperience, which is used by different universities to centralize in a smartphone app all the resources they have for their students,” he says.
For Juan Pablo, education is fundamental for the development of people and society, which is why they already work with more than 80 institutions around the world. Technology, he says, is fundamental and education is one of the sectors that lacks maturity in its implementation, because the solutions used are based on IT industry tools such as computer systems adapted for curriculum management, but not on the particularities and challenges imposed by higher education institutions: “This is most evident in the use of data. All human activity, and in this case in relation to higher education, produces an enormous amount of information, but if that data does not have a form of collection, analysis and strategy and intelligence of use, its value is null. That is where we focus our work, our technological solutions based on AI, big data and specialized algorithms gather that data, depending on the area for which it is needed, process and analyze it, then deliver results or predictive models for the optimization or organization of infrastructure, curriculum planning, decision making,” he reveals.
“We have people of enormous professional talent and human quality and we permanently promote initiatives that allow them to continue growing in their professional development, but above all, contributing to their happiness. The work we do in education is wonderful and even though we know that those who make up our team are talented, we try to ensure that their days at uPlanner generate meaning, shared purpose, making an impact from each of their different roles with a strong sense of teamwork and collaboration. We are looking for cheerful people with initiative and positive attitude, eager to make positive changes in society. We firmly believe that each person who joins uPlanner must share our values of learning, collaboration and impact, be passionate and committed to work together towards the goals we have set for ourselves”, says Juan Pablo while assuring that in uPlanner they will find a startup culture, a dynamic and friendly environment, where they can interact at a multicultural level with different types of people, nationalities and work specialties.
He also highlights that according to the latest Happiness Index survey, which is measured internally at uPlanner, 73% say that equal opportunities for their employees is a high priority: “Although the results are very good, we see room for improvement, because in our company equity and inclusion are fundamental and we are committed to promote and implement these values,” she says.
“We work together with Value For Women to implement strategies that allow us to develop actions with three main focuses:
1. Seedbed of young talent that fosters inclusion.
2. Attracting female talent through inclusive recruitment and hiring processes, generating processes and active practices in matters that allow us to be an attractive company for women.
3. Satisfaction, retention and advancement: Improve individual satisfaction and long-term sense of belonging in the organization for both men and women. This through the development of internal policies and practices related to satisfaction and organizational culture, incorporating benefits such as post-natal care for parents, which is already part of what we offer our employees”, she adds.
Juan Pablo assures that they have great challenges for this year and those to come: “Today we are working on how to attract the best talent and retain those who are already with us. For this it is very important to continue strengthening our employer branding as a differentiating brand image and employer experience, linked to the experience that starts from the very process of attraction to hiring, onboarding and then continuously monitoring what our people value and what makes them happy. Another great challenge is communication, today we are 100% remote with a staff of people mainly in Mexico, Peru, United States, Colombia and Chile, which challenges us to be always communicating, informing and generating spaces for virtual meetings, and sometimes also face-to-face in hybrid modalities with each team”.
Mena reveals that they had a 2021 with very positive results, they grew as a company with new customers in different countries, expanded the network of partners with whom they will seek to scale in new markets. In addition, they will seek to strengthen their presence with the operations they started in the United States and Brazil, projecting a growth of the team to 120 people, twice as many as they are today.