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 drew your company to Philadelphia?
MELISSA SCHIPKE: We were originally a company headquartered out of New Jersey, and during our first round of funding, I got support from Ben Franklin Technology Partners, who provides a lot of really great resources, which led us to move into the city. We work out of the Curtis Center down at 7th and Walnut, which is an amazing space through Benjamin’s desk. Their team there is amazingly supportive and also provides a lot of great resources for startups. We have been really great in leveraging the Ben Franklin network. They are a huge support, and they actually offer a CEO roundtable that we get to be a part of once a month to chat with other founders that they have invested in.
There are a lot of great resources for Ed-Tech here in Philadelphia. I think Philadelphia is such a great location because, one, we have a lot of universities here and that we are able to very early on in our infancy meet with people and talk to them about the problems to understand how to build a product that would get good fit. And your location—close to DC, close to Boston, or out to Pittsburgh—you’re surrounded by universities all over the place, so from a location standpoint, it’s been an amazing spot to start and grow a company. There are also a lot of other Ed-Tech companies that are popping up in the area. New people come into space—I probably talk to a new Ed-Tech founder maybe once every two weeks, so it’s definitely an exciting time for Ed-Tech and there is definitely a lot of support and resources here in Philly. There’s actually a meetup specific for Ed-Tech here as well.
As a founder coming from a corporate background, I was not very aware of the startup community at all, so taking that leap was definitely a bit riskier. I think it was very quickly de-risked once I did that leap and realized there’s such a strong community and presence for entrepreneurship here in Philadelphia, and so much support. A lot of things that I thought would be much more challenging are actually not because there are so many people willing to help here in the city. That’s been an insight that I would like to go and speak at colleges and entrepreneurship classes and talk about that and the fact that that network’s there to leverage.
Q. What have you found difficult about starting and growing a company?
A. Time management becomes a huge challenge as a founder, especially going from two people to seven—and we’re soon to be 10 by the end of the year. Just being able to juggle all the hats that I have to wear on a day-to-day basis: from product management to selling, to client support, to HR, to finance, to branding, to coding, it becomes very challenging to do time management. There are definitely not enough hours in the day. So, we’re excited to continue to grow in order to bring more people on to help support all of those roles.
Q. What’s next for Tassl?
A. We’re continuing to grow this year. We’ve been expanding to other universities. I’m also doing a lot of public speaking at different conferences in the higher ed space to provide some insight and guidelines around how to build effective engagement strategies, and how to be measuring and understanding that measuring engagement is really to be more strategic down the road and build a foundation for a continuous alumni base that’s going to stay involved and add value. It’s been a very exciting past year and it’s amazing to think that the year is already halfway over. We’re just continuing to go into the fall, and football season’s a big engagement time, so we are very excited for that.
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