Each week, the Civic Accelerator blog features an entrepreneur(s) from our growing portfolio of more than 100 startups to share their “ah-ha” moments, trials and successes in launching and running a social venture. This week’s venture profile is on, Ryan Hoch, Co-founder, and CEO, and Kevin Hoffman, Co-founder, and CTO of Overgrad as he shares his experience “It Takes a Village to Prepare Students for Future Opportunities”
Overgrad is an education technology platform used by high school students and the people who support them to ensure that all students have a clear and supported path to future opportunities. Overgrad educates its users on what they need to do today in order to unlock the opportunities of tomorrow.
Ryan and Kevin’s Stories
Ryan and Kevin met as college students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where they both majored in General Engineering. After graduation, Ryan joined Teach for American and taught junior and senior high school students in St. Louis. At the beginning of the school year, he asked his students if they wanted to go to college and 90% of the class eagerly raised their hands, but only 8% would go on to graduate. There was no question as to whether or not his students had post-secondary aspirations and what they wanted to accomplish, but there was a disconnect in the resources offered to help them adequately prepare for life after high school. After teaching for two years, Ryan was discouraged by the lack of transparency students were experiencing when trying to plan and prepare for college and careers.
Kevin began his career as a mechanical engineer, but he was always interested in entrepreneurship and took a course to learn how to code. In 2013, Ryan and Kevin quit their respective jobs, combined their skills and passions, and began building Overgrad to ensure students are on the right track towards achieving their academic and career goals.
“Ah – ha” Moments
Similar to many entrepreneurs, Ryan and Kevin were quick to share that you rarely feel like “you’re there” because you’re always grinding and working towards your next milestone. They built the prototype for Overgrad while they were still working full-time and received early validation and interest from education technology accelerators, which was the impetus for them to jump all the way in. Ryan and Kevin shared that when they knew they were on to something, it wasn’t a “feel good story,” but a meaningful one that gave them a deeper purpose. When they would go into a classroom and work with junior and senior students using the platform, they would ask them what they didn’t like about Overgrad. The most common response was, “I wish someone would have shown this to me this earlier in high school because now I don’t have time to do anything about it.” Ryan and Kevin knew that the product they built had value and the potential to change the trajectory of many students.
Trials and Setbacks
Overgrad’s business model has evolved from when they first started and was not successful for the first three years. They wanted to serve the most underserved students, but many low-resourced schools didn’t have the funding for technologies to support guidance counselors and college advisors. Given this, they targeted universities as their paying customer, in order to help universities better, locate, connect, and match with students. This business model was predicated on working with a large number of students very quickly and took the focus away from the populations they wanted to serve and building a quality product. Although it took three years to arrive at their current business model, focusing on working with schools and school districts to improve counselor effectiveness, there were a lot of lessons learned along way around validating the business model early on and creating a sustainable revenue strategy.
Overgrad is focused on growing its new Overgrad Pro product into schools, districts, and community-based organizations. Their new paid solutions empower these organizations to report on student outcomes, track alumni, gather materials for and apply to college electronically, and analyze and compare financial aid award letters. Through this, they will be able to ensure that the students who need Overgrad most are able to benefit from the platform.
Ryan and Kevin’s Tips, Tricks, and Hacks
Once you figure out the process there are tools out there that allow you to do a lot more and save time- i.e. outbound sales automation. Your most valuable asset is your time! Tools like Upwork, Mechanical Turk, Heroku, and Slack have been most helpful in keeping us lean and efficient.
Join the Good Fight
To support Overgrad’s mission on a local level in your community, Ryan and Kevin believe that all citizens should ask questions and hold schools and school districts accountable for providing quality opportunities and resources to students. Data shows that just graduating from high school doesn’t necessarily afford you access to the best opportunities. There isn’t always an assessment of the quality of matriculation once students leave the K-12 system. Students may attend college, but did they encourage students to go to a college that’s a good academic and social fit? We need to shift the mindset of just graduating from high school to actually taking the right steps to ensure our children are successful in life.