Driving engagement between institutions and their alumni and constituents
Melissa Schipke is the founder and CEO of Tassl, a company that builds technologies centered on constituent engagement. Users of the Tassl app include higher education institutions, group coordinators, and network administrators, as well as their constituents: alumni and volunteers. Melissa started the company after obtaining her MBA from Rowan University. She graduated from Penn State University with a double degree in marketing and advertising in 2009.
EDWIN WARFIELD: What were the early days as an entrepreneur like?
MELISSA SCHIPKE: We originally started working out of kitchens in our own homes—myself and a friend of mine who helped build the initial foundation of the technology. Then, at the end of 2015, we got an investment from the Rowan Innovation Fund. We were the first investment that fund made, which then lead to some additional funding where we raised a little over half a million dollars to start scaling the business. At that point we moved into an office space in Camden, New Jersey, where we started hiring and building our team, and then moved into Philadelphia shortly after to keep expanding our team.
We launched our mobile application—we relaunched it with React Native—which was a huge milestone for us in kind of streamlining our technology, and then we also are able to expand our contract across Penn State to be able to service the whole institution. We were servicing some of the individual colleges at a time and have been able to go to several other institutions as well.
Some of our biggest milestones have really been around just some of the change that we’ve helped make in the industry and creating standardizations around metrics. A lot of metrics haven’t previously been done before in this space, or haven’t been done in a cohesive way, but we’re helping build a really sound infrastructure for a lot of schools to start looking at their engagement strategies differently. A lot of institutions haven’t been thinking with this mindset, but they want to be and have an evenness to build that, so we’re helping build a lot of structure around driving engagement moving forward.
Q. What’s the value for institutions?
A. Taking alumni engagement to the next level is definitely where higher institutions need to start going to. The traditional way of graduating from college, getting a job, starting a family, and having your alma mater be your only connection that you’re rah-rah about is definitely not the way we are connected to things as people anymore. It’s become more of a challenge for higher institutions to remain relevant with their constituent base and fight for that share of voice when they are competing against all the other nonprofits, 5k runs, organizations and things people are getting attached to and they are getting involved with as they evolve as young adults. To evolve, institutions really need to take that engagement strategies to the next level: think a little bit outside of just not engaging the top potential people to give, but also engaging the base in ways that they can build lifelong relationships with the institution. They can bring people back that can add to student success and add insights into the classroom and really differentiate the education they’re providing. You can learn anything online now. You can take a class anywhere online. So, to differentiate as a university is not just about the education anymore—it’s about the value of the network that you’re providing, and the value of the network that people are going to be in for a lifetime. The newer generations, the younger generations, don’t care about the value of how many people give. While it’s still very important, that can’t be the only metric. Institutions are really only ranked on participation in giving, and there really should be more focus on also other analytics around other types of engagements and how much that community is contributing back to the institution.
Q. Can you describe your growth strategy?
A. When we initially decided as a company that we had a product that really was going to help change the industry and really wanted to scale it much faster, that’s the point when we decided we were going to take on some funding to start scaling and growing at a much faster rate. And that’s when we were first dabbling with the idea of fundraising and we met the Rowan Innovation Fund team. We were recommended by somebody to talk with them and were able to be their first investment. They were really excited to not only discover our technology there at Rowan, but also participate in the growth of the company.
They were our first investment, which lead to around a little over a half million, which then funneled us into the Crestview Partners firm, where we were able to meet a lot of really great angel investors that have lead to a lot of amazing connections to the organization as well. And then we met with Ben Franklin [Technology Partners] towards the end and they participated to essentially finish a round out for us. We’re very fortunate that we were able to complete the round in about seven to eight months to then start hiring and growing out our team. Once we had finished that funding and started our initial growth plan, the opportunity to participate and DreamEd’s edtech accelerator came up here in Philadelphia, which we saw as a great opportunity to be working around other people who we were doing Ed-Tech and build out our network, and be part of that great resource that the city provides.
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