Getting from idea to product is in my opinion one of the most difficult tasks an early founder will face. To successfully close a fundraising round or gain acceptance into a top accelerator, pre-seed-stage validation is the key metric.
Most entrepreneurs struggle because, while an idea remains in its inception stage, showing that others believe in what you’re doing without a viable product becomes nearly impossible. As a college startup in 2015, University Beyond was shortlisted for the category of Nurturing Employability at the Reimagine Education Awards. At that time, the initiative had a fraction of the awareness it enjoys today. It’s not just the fact that the Reimagine team is ahead of the curve in examining the future of education technology, but also that the attendees and sponsors are of the necessary caliber to support them.
Fast-forward a few years, and University Beyond has raised a venture-backed pre-seed, and is in the final process of closing an additional round of funding. We have grown, now have 20,000 students placed on over 1,000 campuses nationwide, and work with startups from AirBnB and Seamless, to Fortune 100 companies such as Amazon and Pepsi. We’ve been lucky enough to not only work with roughly 250 brands to provide students creditworthy on-campus work experience, but we were also accepted to the summer class of Dreamit Ed-tech. When you send an application to a potential University partner, or a one-sheet to a prospective client, being able to depict the Reimagine Education Shortlisted logo provides a level of credibility that continues to pay off today.
My educational career was not the best, given several learning disabilities with which I was diagnosed early on. Just as I recognized that I operated slightly differently to my peers, I also realized that it came with a skillset that prompted me to co-found my first business at 16. Alongside my co-founder Brendan Weinstein (current UBeyond CIO), we started manufacturing and distributing interchangeable silicon watches to our High School peers.
As Brendan went to Indiana University and I went to Syracuse University, the brand continued to grow with a feature in People Magazine Style Watch, and two major retail distribution deals, as we looked for ways to expand the brand, and develop our next group of hires through our campus ambassador program.
While our original intention was to create a streamlined platform for brands to connect and manage college ambassadors, we discovered the real problem: the cost of recruiting college students and building a talent pipeline.
Our goal at University Beyond is not only to provide the technology for students and universities (at no cost!), but also to allow employer brands to start developing talent funnels as early as freshman year, at a significant reduction in cost.