2019 SVP Startup Profile: CollegeSpot
Applying to college can be an intimidating process for high school students. With so many of these students’ futures resting on their college decisions, getting the right information and support throughout the application process is key. But high school counseling offices are often understaffed, and the cost of private counselors is not feasible for most students. At the same time, colleges are always looking for new ways to cut through the noise and connect with the students who will be the best fit for their schools. SVP entrepreneur Alisson Amaral ‘21 has developed his online platform CollegeSpot to bridge the gap between prospective college students and universities. I spoke with Alisson to learn about his progress building CollegeSpot in the Summer Venture Program. Here are the highlights of our interview:
How did you start CollegeSpot? What specific experiences led you to pursue this venture?
Before I was an entrepreneur, I wanted to be an engineer. So, I am always looking for ways to create solutions to problems. The problem I want to help solve with CollegeSpot is the difficulties students have in the college application process. Reflecting on my own experience of applying to college without access to all of the right information and resources, I knew I wanted to create an easier route towards attending college. At first I started EduQ, my consulting company in Brazil where I guided fifty students towards getting into college. While this was rewarding work, it was not scalable and was not accessible to everyone. So when I started CollegeSpot this January, I wanted to create something that was free for the students looking to build their college applications. CollegeSpot is designed to guide students through every step of the process and help them find the best schools based on their interests and needs. Universities I have talked with would like to start using the platform as a way of communicating directly with interested students, which I think will help students connect with the schools on a more personal level as they decide where they want to apply and ultimately which school they attend.
What activity or resource from SVP has helped you the most so far?
One of the things that I love the most about SVP is that we get such an amazing space to work in. Being able to come to WeWork every day in the heart of Boston motivates me to come work with people who are also doing amazing things. Everyday we wake up at 8 am, get here like 9:30-10:00 am, and we leave like 7-8 pm because we are so inspired by the environment and the people we are working with.
In what ways have your SVP peers and mentors supported you and your venture?
As an entrepreneur, your job is to be creative when you are developing ways to solve problems. But sometimes it is too easy for us to deviate from our main goals and start thinking about unrealistic ideas. I myself am an entrepreneur and a software developer, so it is very easy for me to get distracted with building a cool feature for the platform that is not directly necessary to make an immediate impact. Having access to my expert mentor Beth Goldstein in SVP has been essential for the experience. She has supported my ideas, but also helps me create manageable goals and stay on track.
All of my peers in SVP have so many different skills, so if you have a problem with your business there is always someone who can help you. Whether it’s with the challenges I have faced on technology side of things, or even learning how to market better on Instagram, there is always someone in SVP who can help me.
What major milestones or accomplishments do you hope to achieve during your time in SVP? Or have you reached any already?
One of the major milestones I have achieved so far is finishing the first version of my platform and launching it with students. Now my goal is to make the platform bigger and get users onboard. I want to have 1,000 student users by the end of 2019 because it’s their feedback which helps me validate and improve the platform. I also want to work with at least 5 colleges this summer to make sure my platform is meeting their needs as well.
What is a valuable challenge or learning experience you have faced as a founder?
The major thing that I learned as an entrepreneur is to never do something by yourself, even if you have the skills to do so, because having someone else to help you and bounce ideas off of is essential. Being able to brainstorm solutions with other people helps everything move faster. As the African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs or for yourself at any earlier stage?
Always listen to the customers. Some people see market research as only online surveys and, while surveys can provide good data, they don’t share nearly as much information as having an actual call or conversation with someone. I thought in the beginning of CollegeSpot that we were going in the right direction, but when I started talking to people who could potentially become stakeholders in the company I learned that I needed to change course a little bit. I had to talk with every player in the market: parents, school counselors, college admissions officers, and of course the students. It was through this market research that I learned that not only the students but the colleges themselves were interested in being part of this platform.
Where can we find CollegeSpot online?
You can visit our online platform at www.thecollegespot.com. We would love for any high school students, guidance counselors, or college admissions officers to check it out and share any feedback. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram @collegespot01.
If you enjoyed learning about Alisson’s story of building CollegeSpot, be sure to stay tuned for more SVP team profile blogs! To meet the entire SVP cohort and celebrate its progress, join us for the Summer Venture Showcase on Thursday, July 25th. RSVP at this link. We can’t wait to see you there!