Industry: Financial Services
Founding Student Names: Aashay Doshi, Michael Lai, Ayush Luthra
Brief Description of Solution: Talent IPO is a platform that connects students (seeking to raise money for their educational expenses) with impact-driven university-affiliated investors via an Income Share Agreement. In short, these investors fund students’ educational expenses for a percentage share of their future income for a set period of time.
Funding Dollars: We have raised $26,000 to-date from Carnegie Mellon University’s VentureBridge Accelerator and various pitch competitions. We are currently raising $1M for our seed round.
What led you to launch this venture? As MBA students, we experienced first-hand the astronomical debt associated with obtaining an advanced academic degree. Talent IPO was founded with the belief that school shouldn’t be a burden and we sought to create a better way for students to acquire the capital they need to pursue higher education. Our Income Share Agreements (ISAs) are a flexible and affordable (pay as you earn) way for students to fund their education and create a “win-win” model for investors and students.
Essentially, we want education to be an outcome-based model as opposed to the current status quo (where students have to foot the bill regardless of what happens after their degree). We want to achieve an efficient state of incentive alignment among students, investors, and universities.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with your venture? To date, we have had 50+ students express interest in applying to our program, and we have officially signed up eight students for our pilot. We have also engaged university-affiliated investors (alumni, family, and friends) who have committed over $175,000 to fund these students. This has been our biggest accomplishment because this is essentially customer validation. As founders, we get advice from a lot of sources, but the ultimate feedback and validation come from those who are actually using your service or product.
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? The Tepper MBA program is a testament to the (often controversial) statement that “entrepreneurship can be taught.” As founders, we were part of the Entrepreneurship Track structured by the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship. It is not an exaggeration to say that Tepper has perfectly built an entrepreneurship roadmap, designed to provide MBA students with the tools, experiences, and support necessary to facilitate development as a leader and innovator. Starting with classes such as Lean Entrepreneurship and moving on to Commercialization and Innovation Strategy, we have been coached on how to turn our idea into reality. We’ve learned how to conduct customer discovery, build a business model canvas, launch a quick MVP (minimal viable product), obtain customer feedback, and construct crisp investment pitches. The Tepper School of Business has instilled in us an “entrepreneurial mindset” and empowered us to launch Talent IPO through valuable resources and a strong support ecosystem.
We are tremendously thankful to Dave Mawhinney, Craig Markovitz, Robb Myer, and the Swartz Center staff for mentoring and guiding us through the startup journey.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Jack Ma famously said, “As an entrepreneur, you have got to get used to being challenged. Having to get used to being said ‘no’ to by other people, by investors, by your customers, by people.” This rejection should be treated as an opportunity. If you’re met with some level of skepticism or critique, you’re on to something. When we first pitched Talent IPO, we received a lot of critical reactions, and sometimes even ridicule. This excited us because change doesn’t happen overnight and it meant people were actually thinking about our proposition. Over time, our idea began to sink in and resonate with audiences. We went on to win the PDMA pitch competition, advance to the final round of the Carnegie Mellon McGinnis Venture Competition, earn acceptance into Carnegie Mellon’s VentureBridge Accelerator program, and sign our first customers.
Jack Ma has undergone tremendous failures in his life but kept moving forward. He continues to be our source of inspiration when we have those tough moments.
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? The initial idea for our startup was born out of the Commercialization and Innovation Strategy course taught by Professor Craig Markovitz. The MBA class focuses on the upfront strategic market thinking that must be the basis of a proactive and potent business plan to introduce innovations to the marketplace. We were able to apply innovation frameworks, methodologies, and case studies from the classroom toward developing our solution to tackle the student debt crisis. The Commercialization course provided Talent IPO with the tools to identify the market need, conduct customer discovery, and build our early business model.
The biggest lesson from the class was about understanding widespread problems and creating solutions that address a significant market need. Craig always reiterated, “Don’t be a solution looking for a problem. Find the problem to be solved first.”
What is your long-term goal with your startup? We believe that when students make career decisions based on actual interest (as opposed to fear of fulfilling a debt), they can flourish. After we launch our first MVP at Tepper, we want to develop a successful playbook and eventually scale Talent IPO to the top 50 U.S. graduate schools. Future opportunities also include medical and law schools.
Our long-term goal is to ensure students have the flexibility to pursue what they’re passionate about and that paying for school shouldn’t be based on one’s financial situation.