MBA Program: Indiana University Kelley, School of Business
Industry: B2B software
Founding Student Names: Ryan Underdahl
Brief Description of Solution: Civic Champs is a social enterprise with a mission to create a frictionless volunteering experience for both volunteers and nonprofit organizations. We aim to streamline volunteer management so service organizations spend less time on manual clerical tasks and more time on what really matters.
Our initial product automates volunteer hour tracking by providing nonprofits three different ways of capturing volunteer hours: a mobile app for volunteers that uses geo-fencing technology; a self-service kiosk; and an admin mode within the mobile app that allows administrators to check-in volunteers on their behalf. We will also introduce scheduling, background and waiver tracking, volunteer texting, and micro-donations to our platform over the next 6 months.
Funding Dollars: $366,000
What led you to launch this venture? During my internship after the first year of my MBA, I had the opportunity to work for one of my co-founders, Geng Wang. During my time there, I helped Geng develop the CSR program for the company. This project led to our first inspiration, which was to create a mobile game for volunteering (e.g., the Pokemon Go of volunteering). As we interviewed nonprofit organizations, we learned that while a mobile game would be novel, we had an opportunity to have an even larger impact by simply streamlining the volunteering process.
Today, each part of the process is often manual and human capital intensive, including finding opportunities, signing up for those opportunities, tracking volunteering efforts, and outreach and follow-up. This is a sincere pain for these organizations. Individuals who are so proficient at providing a positive social impact are being bogged down with back-office clerical tasks.
We realized we could build tools to give these individuals their time back to focus on the causes their organizations cared about. Additionally, we know we can add products to our platform that will allow organizations to capitalize on opportunities that they do not have the bandwidth to currently pursue. Thus, Civic Champs was born.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with your venture? We currently work with 22 nonprofit clients. I am quite proud of how quickly we have managed to engage so many nonprofit organizations. I think it is a reflection of how much work we have done in a short amount of time. However, I am also proud of how much impact we have been able to have. Seeing the reaction of some of the staff members who first use our products has been very rewarding.
We are automating clerical tasks that used to take up a significant amount of time. Knowing that we are contributing by giving the individuals at these organizations this time back so they can focus on their mission and work to make our communities better places makes this journey worth it.
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business has a fantastic entrepreneurial community. It has significantly shaped not only our business but how I think as an entrepreneur. I was lucky enough to have an outstanding core team with a diverse array of experiences who helped me grow and learn to look at situations from a different, and more holistic, perspective. I had the opportunity to learn from a number of dynamic professors who brought real-world experiences to the coursework and helped me identify opportunities, understand the intricacies of starting and growing a business, and gave me the tools to strategically tackle the issues I face every day.
The Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship provided invaluable feedback, connections, and direction. We were also fortunate enough to win the Johnson Center’s Clapp IDEA Competition which provided us with a great amount of exposure that has been extremely beneficial. Finally, the informal organizations at Kelley, namely my fellow classmates, provided unrivaled support. I was fortunate enough to learn alongside a group of truly bright and compassionate individuals who constantly made themselves available to me to discuss our business, get their feedback, and help hone our idea and value proposition.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? I’ve been influenced and motivated by many great entrepreneurs in my lifetime. However, I would say the founder who influenced me the most was my grandfather, who founded Custom Building and Supply in 1968. Many people refrain from starting a new endeavor because of the high risk of failure. Despite that risk, having no safety net, and having six children at home, my grandfather set out to create his business. He has seen it grow for over 50 years due to his hard work, dedication, and ability to identify opportunities. I’ve always thought that if he had the fortitude to take that risk while facing greater obstacles and significantly more obligations, then I have no excuse not to begin my own entrepreneurial journey.
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? While there were many classes that helped me learn and grow while I was at Kelley, the most valuable class, in terms of helping build our business, was Jonathan Metzger’s New Venture Business Planning class. Of the many things I learned from JT, the biggest lesson was understanding and having a framework for evaluating new opportunities. His framework taught me how to look at opportunities holistically, understand the dynamics of the marketplace, determine complementary assets, and evaluate the product-market fit. This proved vital as we laid the groundwork for Civic Champs.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? Our long-term goal is for Civic Champs to become the community platform for giving, initially starting out with volunteering but expanding to donations. Being a community platform will provide volunteers and donors a platform where they can support all the organizations they care about, all in one place. It will also streamline the onboarding process for organizations and provide them exposure to a wider volunteer and donor base. We hope to make Civic Champs a place where organizations can find, track, and engage with their volunteers. Similarly, it would be a place where volunteers can discover and sign-up for new opportunities, donate to the causes they care about and share their experiences. We want to create a frictionless platform for both organizations and volunteers and contribute to an increase in overall volunteerism.