Let’s reflect on the entrepreneurs living and working in Northeast Ohio. On this blog, we’ve highlighted the regional impact of these innovators, which is something national publications have also started noticing; witness Salon’s recent article, “Rust Belt Chic: Declining Midwest cities make a comeback.” What makes these entrepreneurs compelling? Passion.
Former bankers Jeremy Amos and Matt Benton are two of these passionate people. Together, they’ve created Upclique, a website that guides prospective students and parents through the often murky process of picking out a college. Although there are many resources available to aspiring academics, Jeremy and Matt’s idea is one-of-a-kind: Upclique is a totally free online networking site—“eHarmony for the college search process,” as they describe it—which connects students, parents, college admissions personnel and high school counselors.
Why does the duo feel so strongly about their project? Because from their experience, they know there’s a desperate need for it. “We both worked in the banking sector, often helping the parents of college-age children with financial planning,” Jeremy explains. “They’d often ask us where they should send their kids, so we ended up doing research into the college recruitment process.”
What they discovered was an archaic, often confusing process run by third-party companies, who were driven by profits over the students’ best interests. As a result, Upclique aims to streamline the method by which students, parents and high schools communicate with colleges—and with each other. Transparency and ease of use are key, as is establishing mutually beneficial relationships.
Students fill out a personalized profile on Upclique’s website and can connect directly with prospective schools. Parents can oversee their student’s application process by communicating with college personnel and his or her high school counselors. Universities, in turn, can identify and engage with promising students and easily obtain academic information from an applicant’s school. And high school counselors can use Upclique to network with colleges, with the ultimate goal of matching students with their ideal schools.
“We took a billion-dollar industry, tore it down to the studs and went through it with a fine-tooth comb,” Jeremy says.
Such attention to detail has yielded real results. Upclique, a client of the Youngstown Business Incubator, recently received not only an investment round from Beachwood, Ohio-based Ancora Group, but also an endorsement from the National Catholic College Admission Association, a group with more than 200 colleges across the country. “This endorsement provides us with traction and, most importantly, visibility and credibility,” Jeremy says. “We have a plan in place and know exactly where we want to go. Now we just need more capital to allow us the flexibility to enhance our technology, expand our network and employ more people.
Raising money is one thing, but trying to revolutionize the industry is another. Matt and Jeremy know that educational institutions can be resistant to change—and they know that in order for Upclique to be truly comprehensive and effective, it’ll need the endorsement of as many schools as possible. “We’re preaching an entirely new method of recruitment,” Jeremy says. “Getting colleges to buy into our vision is our biggest challenge, but it also provides us with the biggest reward once they buy in.”
Yet with their clear vision, unwavering passion and ambitious goals, Upclique’s Matt and Jeremy are poised to succeed. “By streamlining the channels of communication via an easy-to-access website, Upclique provides an impetus to overcome ingrained habits—and make the college admissions process more accessible to everyone,” says JumpStart’s president, John Dearborn.
[Upclique was recently one of 12 companies invited to take part in a conference call with officials from the White House and U.S. Department of Education to discuss what types of products, services or features could be developed to help students and their parents make better decisions about investing in higher education.]