Chicago Startup Led By Seasoned Entrepreneurs Helps Higher Ed Digitize The College Experience In As Little As 8 Weeks

Beyond Academics Leaders (from left to right) Joe Abraham, Matthew Alex, and Joel Mathew Smiling in Front of Chicago Skyline

Matthew Alex couldn’t have predicted a global pandemic when he launched Beyond Academics to help higher Ed transform, but it was the final ingredient of the perfect storm that is claiming its casualties in higher education.

Alex is a former partner at Deloitte, where he led the Student Technology and Transformation practice—overseeing some of the most complex Student Technology Transformation projects in the country. He also led Deloitte’s Smart Campus and Future of Work initiatives.

“Other than a handful of elite, incumbent schools with 10 and 11-figure endowments and globally-recognized names, most colleges and universities have months, not years, to make a total digital transformation,” says Alex “most schools are either completely delusional or cautiously concerned about the future. What both groups have in common is that neither group has a plan that has any sustainable future. They think ‘zoom university’ is the way out of the storm.”

With big tech like Google and Amazon announcing their plans to enter the space, 40% of future freshmen saying they don’t plan to pursue 4-year degrees this fall, and a growing population of digital natives who have no interest in sitting in a lecture hall for 2 hours, the proverbial writing is on the wall. But higher ed is in denial. 

“Coronavirus was just the catalyst that accelerated the inevitable,” says serial entrepreneur and co-founder Joe Abraham. “Higher education has typically had an anti-business, anti-entrepreneurial mindset within its internal operation, and it’s about to cost a lot of careers. They’ve thought of themselves as so different and so separate, that they’ve lost the basic business fundamentals of customer-centric product design, voice-of-the-customer-driven innovation, and an agile, iterative pursuit of being fit for purpose.” 

But there is hope. Thought leaders and authentic innovators in higher education who recognized the warning signs a long time ago are sounding the alarm. Dr. Rufus Glasper, CEO of The League of Innovation in the Community College says “there is a sense of urgency for any college campus to shelve traditional strategic plans, and lift highly nimble and innovative 3, 6 and 12-month roadmaps focused on entrepreneurial transformation, and that requires new thinking,” Glasper said. “You have to establish culture where you can have the opportunity to have an ebb and flow like never before.”

Beyond Academics is helping campuses build and deploy these nimble plans for digital transformation while introducing low-cost ‘bolt-on’ technologies like its Smart Panda tools that automate labor-intensive processes, while making things like transcript portability possible within weeks, not years.

“Digital transformation is not about repaving the old roads of higher education with multi-million dollar student system installations, or synchronous classes delivered over 16-week semesters,” says Alex, “it’s about providing poly-synchronous learning, unbundling of courses into mini-artifacts that can be consumed on-demand, creating off-campus digital affinity for students – the likes of a Minecraft environment, and providing real-time transcript mobility so that students can take multiple classes across multiple schools – at the same time. That’s just the beginning of what the future of higher education looks like.” 

“Senior leadership teams are struggling to visualize the future because they’ve been in a bubble. Their teams are struggling to display entrepreneurial behavior – which is a prerequisite for authentic innovation,” says co-founder and author of Entrepreneurial DNA, Joe Abraham. “Higher education has some of the brightest minds on earth, but they need help breaking past limiting beliefs, and they need to discover the frameworks for how to design and deploy innovation in times of existential crisis. That’s what we need to help them through.”

In addition to Alex’s Future of Work platform and Abraham’s Entrepreneurial Innovation frameworks is 3rd co-founder Joel Mathew’s decades of digital media experience including running a digital marketing agency with clients like Nike, Allstate, Acura, and Rakuten. “Higher ed needs a fresh, customer-centric, and outside-the-industry approach to enrollment strategy in order to engage the digital natives of the future”, Mathews says.

Beyond Academics Announces the Acquisition of Smart Panda Tools


Beyond Academics Announces the Acquisition of Smart Panda Tools And Launches Subsidiary To Serve Higher Education Technology Needs

Friday, August 14th, 2020

Chicago, IL: As colleges and universities around the country wrestle with decisions around the short-term and long-term impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic, and what many are calling the “new normal”, technology is a major point of transformation. Becoming digital is so much more than just delivering classes online. Every aspect of the campus experience for a student has to transform to be faster, and available on-demand. That doesn’t have to involve multi-million dollars investments anymore.

“Costly ERP implementations should not be the focus of any college or university at this time of existential change”, says Beyond Academics founder Matthew Alex. “Our acquisition of Smart Panda Tools allows us to bring low-cost, nimble, high-value technology that can bolt on to existing IT infrastructure so schools can deliver more human-centric solutions that students actually need.”

With in-market technologies like the industry-exclusive Raptor Transcript Importer™, Transfer Gateway™, Pathway Finder™, Transcript Express™, and Rule Maker™, Smart Panda Tools is focused on helping universities and community colleges automate tasks that historically have taken a tremendous amount of human capital and time. Unlike large ERP implementations that are hard to justify ROI for, these tools are typically 5-figure investments with virtually immediate ROI. While colleges see an increase in efficiency, reduction in costs, and higher capacity for enrollment, students see much faster access to information (such as transfer credit and transparency to degree outcomes), and greater portability of their data.

We are entering a new era of digital freedom. That means freedom to learn and achieve, and critical is the freedom to move those achievements in and among schools all along the educational journey,” said Paul Rhinehart PhD, co-founder of SmartPandaTools.  “For the last three years, at SmartPanda we’ve been pushing the envelope on what is possible in automating student transfer.  Now by combining forces with Beyond Academics, and with a growing network of allies in higher education, we are positioned to help higher ed deliver exactly what the next generation of students will expect.

Smart Panda Tools technologies are already in use at over 15 colleges and universities around the country. Partnerships and joint venture alliances are available for interested parties.


A higher education think tank, incubator, and advisory firm, Beyond Academics exists to help its university and college leaders navigate the mission-critical decisions involving the future of work, and the future of the campus enterprise. The company uses a highly collaborative approach to industry partnerships in order to bring clients diversity in guidance and solutions.

To learn more about these tools, click here.

Press Contact:
Tiffany Mullins
Beyond Academics
935 W. Chestnut Street, Suite 470
Chicago, IL 60642