April 25, 2014
We learned recently of some initiatives by local, San Diego universities to foster the idea that entrepreneurial career tracks are viable right after, and sometimes even before, graduation. Specifically, the University of San Diego (USD) recently had its V2 Pitch Competition and formally announced a winner.
There were four different startups selected to split the $50,000 pot, but it didn’t break down evenly. Rather, Alumnify walked away with $40,000 of the prize money while the other three teams split the remaining $10,000.
Further, there were investors present that liked Alumnify so much that post-V2, the company received an additional $60,000 in investments. In other words, the Alumnify team walked away with $100,000 from winning USD’s V2: talk about a viable career path right out of college!
But it begs an important question: what makes Alumnify $30,000 better than the other startups? I didn’t hesitate for one moment to speak with CEO AJ Agrawal and dig into his startup.
The focus of the company is straightforward and much needed in the university setting. Agrawal and his team have developed an alumni engagement platform optimized for an entirely new generation of college alumni.
“At the time of the initial idea, USD was asking my co-founder and me for donations,” says Agrawal. “We were entrepreneurs with barely any money to our name but the emails never stopped coming. We thought that there had to be a better way to engage alumni.”
There was indeed a better way, but Agrawal and his co-founder Eghosa Aihie needed to relocate to South Carolina before they found it. Their move was well-planned, and they soon got involved with The University of South Carolina’s (USC) T-minus 6 Accelerator.
They were able to leverage the resources there and hire two additional developers and keep all of their development in-house. Shortly after that, they closed sales with 10 different university clients.
USC hopped right on board partly because students at the university admittedly hate the alumni donations process. Agrawal and Aihie surveyed 150 USC alumni, aged 22 to 32, and over 50 percent said that they ignored or blocked their university phone number.
Alumnify circumvents this issue in two key ways. First, it requires little to no effort for alumni to actively use, and second, universities can easily tap their alumni network in one fell swoop via the platform.
For the alumni, every aspect of their profile is pulled from LinkedIn, and the team sprinkled a bit of Tinder into the mix. When networking, both alumni have to choose to connect; Alumnify abandoned the friend request model.
“The reason we did that is because professors at universities tell students not to send LinkedIn requests to alumni,” says Agrawal. “It might sound backwards, but these alumni think they’re getting scammed for job opportunities.”
The long term for Alumnify is to help universities effectively engage their alumni, arguably one of the most important segments of university affiliates. After all, as Agrawal points out, school rank is based on the number of donors and not gross donation amount.
“When universities engage young alumni early on, the trend is that they will give back more as they get older,” says Agrawal. “We want Alumnify to be synonymous with young alumni. It’s just so much better than cold calls.”
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