Bio: Giuseppe Ferrara (second from the left in the picture) is a young entrepreneur who got a medical degree from Bologna University last year. At the age of 19, he started a project to help students prepare for the admission test in medicine in Italy, the Pro-Med online education platform. The project combining Giuseppe’s passion for natural sciences and technology returned the investment on development just two days after launch. Read the story of the successful project founded by the first-year students told by Giuseppe.
The Great Four
From the beginning, there were four of us: me and three of my best friends/business partners, Mario, Enrico, and Gaspare. As high school students we wanted to attend medicine and for that, had to prepare for the national test—Test di Medicina e Odontoiatria. We met at university and we were always talking about the admission test.
Just for context, here in Italy, there’s a big national test for all the healthcare-related universities which is really infamous for its difficulty. It is divided into five different sections, one per subject — logic, general knowledge, biology, chemistry, math, and physics. There are 60 questions and you don’t really have much time to answer them all. The score to pass is quite high so a lot of people fail and end up trying again the year after. Imagine: if we just talk about medicine, it’s roughly 60 000 applicants every year, and just a bit more than 10 000 end up at the university. In other words, only the strong survive.
After months of studying and a lot of theory and exercises, we finally passed. All four of us agreed on how poorly organized our study was, and naturally, it went down to creating a more streamlined process for other students to prepare for this test.
Perfecting the Imperfect
At the time, we had no experience in the entrepreneurial world because we were really young. It was our first year of university, we were all 19 and had little time for anything other than our studies. Pro-Med, the side project we were working on to help other students, was adding up with all the studies so we were under much pressure.
We started really small with a Facebook page and a little website. We were trying to break down the study process into simple steps and further identified three of them.
The first one was the theory. In order to pass, you have to learn all the necessary notions to answer all the questions correctly. And since we are very firm believers in peer-to-peer education, we have produced more than 100 hours of video lessons —we’re lucky we love photography and filming —which were held by some of the best university students we work with. We really believe that a university student is perfectly capable and even more capable than a professor to teach and to pass their knowledge to high school students because they probably attended and passed the test a year or two prior. No one but a student knows what other students need.
The second key point was exercising. After you learn a lot, you need to practice. In the current platform, for example, we have an entire section just for this purpose —students can simulate the national test as many times as they want and then follow their progress with the statistics and charts that we show them.
And the last point was community. Every student needs to find study mates and tutors to share their journey with. This key step was lacking when we were preparing for the test ourselves, so that’s where we focused the most. In our current software, we put a lot of effort into creating a community that was really welcoming and with a lot of advanced features like live lessons and polls.
In sum, that’s what preparation was lacking:
- Understanding of students’ pain points. Students comprehend and address them better than professors because their memory of their experiences is still fresh.
- Practicing in vivo. Students can practice for themselves but specialized software that allows simulating the test and tracking progress makes preparation more efficient and the test itself then doesn’t come as a surprise.
- Support from peers who are going through the same challenge. This was resolved by gathering a centralized community around the test.
From Amateurs to Pros
I think that the way we have established a relationship of trust with our target audience played a great role in the success of Pro-Med. In the first year of university, we worked hard and put a lot of effort into choosing the type of communication that could speak to students as their peers, and not to their parents. It was taken well because as students, we were understanding the needs and fears of other students.
For a while, we were using side software to build tests, and it had certain limitations which was quite frustrating. So we contacted Anadea, an educational software development company, and they helped immensely with creating the new version of the platform. In a few months, they made the product we were dreaming of, something that can be changed in a way we wanted and thus be more useful to our target audience, high school students.
In just two days after launch, we practically returned the investment on development and couldn’t believe it! That particular launch campaign had nothing that stood out, but over the years we have improved our marketing campaigns and our strategy. We work with social media platforms to create hype about the new features we introduce. This year, an entirely new platform came out, and we managed to create a lot of hype around it and concentrate on the new platform launch.
I mentioned video lessons before: in the first stages, we were producing them ourselves too. For the new platform, this year, we have decided to ramp up the quality even more, so we have hired a production team that helped us create top-quality video lessons filmed with cinema cameras and all the professional equipment. Like a mini Hollywood movie!
The Earlier, the Better
In the beginning, we were doing a lot of things ourselves. We were basically Jacks-of-all-trades, all four of us took care of everything: the website, marketing, and all business-related stuff. That was really a lot to do for just four people, so maybe we should have grown our team earlier than we actually did.
Still, I don’t regret anything. We started at a really young age which enabled us to make a lot of mistakes early — and avoid them later on. We failed a lot of times and had the possibility to fail at a very early stage, so even if we still fail sometimes, now we know a lot from experience. I think an important factor for setting up a business is to start really early to make mistakes as early as possible.
The Unfair Advantage
In a world where we can learn anything anywhere thanks to the Internet, the most difficult thing to do is to find your so-called unfair advantage. It’s knowing that you have something extra because you specialize in a field that no one else has and trying to exploit it as much as you can. For example, we were knowledgeable of how the market was lacking such a business as the one that we created because we previously were its target audience. So having this unfair advantage enabled us to brainstorm how we could make an impact in this market.
Inspiration That’s Pushing Forward
The most inspiring thing for me is the impact that we made — and keep making — on thousands of students. Thinking about the fact that we helped a lot of people achieve their dream to study medicine and thinking that these people will be of service in the public health system gives me chills. And it’s great to think that over time, there will be more and more of them.
This is inspiring us to look into other countries that have a similar test. We have found out that this type of business model can really work with both high school and university students, so we have actually started another project. It’s called ‘WeTest’ and it involves every other area of expertise apart from medicine and healthcare. For example, we started to do courses and quizzes for engineering and other faculties, that’s one thing that we are focusing a lot on right now because it can grow exponentially. We also have plans to become a little bit more vertical in the healthcare field because there are other types of tests that we can help students prepare for.