Dan Sommer ’97 leveraged higher ed to teach workers valuable skills
Dan Sommer ’97 started Trilogy Education in 2015 to equip workers with sought-after technical skills that would help them to fill demands in the job market. Today, Trilogy partners with 50 universities in over 50 locations to offer programs in web development, data analytics, cybersecurity, and user experience and user interface design. Trilogy was acquired by education technology company 2U, Inc., in May 2019.
What does Trilogy Education do, and what problem does it solve?
Trilogy Education connects universities, employers and working adults to bridge the digital skills gap. Fast-changing technology is creating a huge divide between the technical skills employers need and the talent available to meet that demand. With over 1 million open tech positions and around 60,000 computer science graduates coming out of universities each year, I wanted to develop a model that would help universities to fill this growing gap in the workforce.
How did you get the idea for Trilogy?
I’ve always had a healthy respect for higher education and a belief that universities are the place to go for education of all kinds. My father was a State University of New York trustee, and I grew up talking around the dinner table about higher education and its connection to the local economy. When I saw that proprietary boot camps were emerging to bridge the technical skills gap, I asked, “Why not work with traditional universities to provide this training and make their communities stronger?”
How has your experience at Cornell impacted how you approach business?
I fell in love with the idea of being an entrepreneur at Cornell. I started my first business, a guide to food establishments on Wall Street, while serving as president of Student Agencies, Inc. I got hooked immediately on the energy of starting something new from scratch.
“I fell in love with the idea of being an entrepreneur at Cornell…. I got hooked immediately on the energy of starting something new from scratch.”
Was there a particular faculty member or class that influenced you the most? If so, how?
I enjoyed Deb Streeter’s class on entrepreneurship. I sat in a class with Dan Cane and Steve Gilfus, who went on to start Blackboard and take it public. I wrote a plan for the creation of a laundry delivery business (of course, what all Cornell students need) to be offered through Student Agencies. The laundry business wasn’t an IPO candidate, but the experience in developing a business plan and being around other like-minded students was priceless.
What has been your proudest moment as an entrepreneur? Why?
In 2015, I walked into Trilogy Education’s first class at Rutgers Coding Bootcamp in Piscataway, New Jersey. We were kicking off our very first class of future web developers, and it was love at first sight. I had never been so affected by a room full of people. Although they were from all different walks of life, everyone was there for a single purpose: They wanted a better future for themselves and their families. Spending time each week with our students, hearing their stories, seeing their struggles, and ultimately, watching them break through and succeed, was perhaps the most inspiring time in my professional life.
“If you can view feedback as a gift and learn how to truly listen to your customers, employees, advisors and investors, you’ll be miles ahead of your competition.”
Who or what inspires you?
Hard work and ambition. Watching the thousands of students who take the risk to learn new skills to improve their lives – that’s what inspires me most.
If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting out, what would it be?
Learn how to take and process feedback. If you can view feedback as a gift and learn how to truly listen to your customers, employees, advisors and investors, you’ll be miles ahead of your competition.
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