Entrepreneurship

Startup targets college application process for disruption • St Pete Catalyst

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If you’re reading this and you happen to have a degree from an institute of higher learning, you probably remember how onerous the college application process can be. Well, it’s even tougher for minority and underprivileged students — and that’s the problem that College Thriver Inc., an Orlando-based startup, wants to solve.

College Thriver is the latest company to be supported with a $50,000 investment from St. Petersburg-based Seedfunders’ Opportunity Fund, which aims to empowers the Black entrepreneurial community in Florida through pre-seed stage investments in Black-owned startups. College Thriver founder Shawntia Lee, speaking with the Catalyst, said the funding will go a long way toward helping her build out the company’s software-as-a-service platform that will be marketed to colleges and universities that struggle to attract and retain minority students.

“I’ve been working in college admissions for the last 10 years,” Lee said, “and so I’ve always been the first point of contact for students and I’m always the one solving problems for them. I’ve worked for about five different universities now and what I realized at each school — whether it was public or private — no matter what, the minority students in particular were just way further behind in the process and more lost and confused than my other demographic.”

Lee, who is Black, grew up in tiny Live Oak, Fla., and said she was the first person in her family to go to college. Her mother only got as far as 11th grade and her father had a GED. “I had to figure everything out on my own,” she said.

That formative experience stuck with Lee and informed her decision to launch College Thriver. The platform is currently in an early pilot phase at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, but Lee hopes to soon partner with the University of Central Florida, University of South Florida and St. Petersburg College for additional testing and tweaking. The service is focused on college counseling, ACT/SAT counseling, essay writing and career internships, but Lee said she also wants to help minority and low-income students emerge from college with as little debt as possible.

“We did some research and found that there’s something like $60 billion left over in the Pell Grant program every year,” Lee said. “And so I’m wondering, what is happening to this money? If we can provide students with this extra money that’s left over, guess what? We can also eliminate student loan debt, which is also a part of my message. So it’s just a win-win for College Thriver, for sure.”

Lee said College Thriver will be targeted at kids in grades six through 12. In addition to a SaaS product that can be sold to colleges and universities, College Thriver will also provide a mobile app that students can use to search for housing, transportation, funding and other resources to support their educational journeys. She also said that the app will “gamify” the college application process, rewarding students with points that can be redeemed for their favorite products and services.

“Let’s say you submit 10 applications today,” Lee said. “That will get you bonus points for a free Chick-Fil-A sandwich, or whatever we decide to put in there.”

College and university officials who would like to learn more about the College Thriver platform are encouraged to contact Lee at [email protected]

The Seedfunders Opportunity Fund accepts applications from majority Black-owned startups and is open to all accredited investors. Click here to apply.

(Editor’s note: Catalyst publisher Joe Hamilton is a Seedfunders partner.)

Read more at stpetecatalyst.com

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