“...having held the roles of management consultant, investment banker and airline CFO, I had several
‘dream jobs’ before the age of 40. I was ready to
go after something more purposeful in the next stage..."
Brian O’Dwyer, Commercial Founder and Executive Chairman
The CognaLearn Story
It began in the Union Bar at the American Club in Singapore.
In 2013, Brian left his role as the Group Chief Financial Officer of SkyWest following its $100 million sale to Virgin. As he contemplated about what to do next with his career, he crossed paths with Bob Kamei, the then Vice-Dean of Education at Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School (“Duke-NUS”).
“I was the president of the Duke University Alumni Club of Singapore. Bob and I went for lunch at the
Union Bar to talk about using their campus to show a basketball game for Duke alumni in Singapore. During lunch Bob asked what I was interested in doing after the airline, instantaneously I told him ‘education
“When I was the Chief Financial Officer of SkyWest, the company experienced a quick growth cycle and grew from 400 to 800 employees in under 18 months. Our biggest challenge then was finding the right talent for our team. What made the problem compelling was that I had been an alumni career mentor to Columbia and Duke students for years, and there are plenty of very talented folks that couldn’t seem to find the right job!” Brian recalls how these problems intrigued him to further investigate the ineffectiveness of the lecture-based education system in developing market-ready graduates, and what could be done to close the gap.
“So, when Bob told me that Duke-NUS was looking for an Entrepreneur-in-Residence (‘EIR’),
the next thing I know, I was an EIR at Duke-NUS!” Brian shares excitedly as he reminisces the moment
that kick-started everything.
“From a career stand point, having held the roles of management consultant, investment banker and airline CFO, I had several ‘dream jobs’ before the age of 40. I was ready to go after something more purposeful in the next stage,” Brian further explains.
“I spent 18 months preparing to commercialize some of the team-based learning teaching approaches and technology developed at Duke-NUS, which has been proven to increase learning outcomes and engagement! In 2015, at the age of 40 with my wife pregnant with our fourth child, I founded CognaLearn with the goal of transforming education! And as they say, the rest is history.”
Since spinning out of Duke-NUS then, the team has grown and worked with over 75 academic, corporate and government institutions from 15 countries on five continents to help educators transform education by replacing lecture-based learning with team-based learning.