Two years ago, Rutgers University graduates Chisa Egbelu and Kayla Michele founded a company called PeduL to make college more attainable by creating a platform for students to raise money for their education.
“We believe a more accessible education is better for people in all aspects of society,” Egbelu said. “In order for society to properly move to that next level, to go to places it has not gone before, education needs to be as accessible as possible.”
PeduL is one of the companies working with MPAC Solutions, a business platform that connects entrepreneurs with investors so they can scale their business and generate revenue.
Founders Michael Anderson and Gailyn Rawls describe MPAC as a mid-point for businesses to raise funds and they focus on communities underserved by venture capital. They are focused on serving social impact businesses.
“Despite good intentions, the state and private [venture capital] firms have a dismal track record of investing in businesses on the basis of merit,” Anderson said. “MPAC collaborates with public-private leaders to help develop businesses founded by people of color and/or who are focused on such communities and social impact thrive.”
Leveling the field
PeduL’s development is a testament to MPAC’s impact. Egbelu and Michele started the company in January 2017 as a platform on which students apply for money for college through crowdfunding. Now, they are getting ready to debut a common application for scholarships to expand access to more students. Egbelu and Michele are asking corporations to fund scholarships as a tool to recruit and train employees.
“Our goal is to be the central single scholarship place online,” Egbelu said. “We go that extra step in involving those corporations.”
“The crowdfunding was our blueprint to figure out the pain points for our next version,” said Egbelu, a native of Baton Rouge, La.
The business consultation with MPAC prepared the pair for their next steps. MPAC helped expand PeduL’s network, working with Egbelu and Michele to corporatize a lot of their already existing processes.
We had to pivot and that is how we got to the common application that we are launching later this year. Now students will be able to apply to multiple scholarships through a single application. PeduL has transformed from a crowdfunding platform to a scholarship marketplace.
– Kayla Michele
“They prepared us to close this round and attuned our skill set to leverage ourselves in negotiations,” Egbelu said.
Egbelu and Michele are preparing to launch the common application in summer 2019. In addition, they are looking to raise $1.2 million to expand the business, Egbelu said. This money is not to be used for college funding.
“On this new platform, [students] can apply for established scholarships,” Egbelu said. “People come to the platform and say this is our goal. We provide them with advice on how to raise that money.”
“When someone creates a profile, they publish it — that is their campaign,” Egbelu added. “Anyone can go to their campaign and sponsor them. They can give $50 or $100. On this new platform they will still be able to do that plus apply for already established scholarships.”
Michele explained that she and Egbelu asked college students about the crowdfunding platform in 2017 and 2018 and determined crowdfunding is inherently elitist because “it almost always requires the students to have access to a network with capital. Unfortunately, that is not everyone’s reality,” said Michele, a native of Edison. “Not everyone has an uncle or aunt who they can hit up for a $100 or $200 donation.”
Both Egbelu and Michele called that moment a pain point.
“We had to pivot and that is how we got to the common application that we are launching later this year,” Michele said. “Now students will be able to apply to multiple scholarships through a single application. PeduL has transformed from a crowdfunding platform to a scholarship marketplace.”
Raising awareness among employers
The two founders say they hope to help employers see the correlation between funding education and improving the pool of available workers.
“One out of four employers is saying that students coming out of college are not prepared, not qualified to be fully productive at their organization,” Michele said. “Unfortunately, that is not really the fault of the student. It is the fault of academia as a whole. But at the end of the day, the university is not meant to prepare us to be fully productive at any organization. The corporations can take the students as a freshman, sophomore, or junior, start training them using scholarships as an incentive to get them into the organization and also train them so when they do come out of college they are prepared to hit the ground running.”
Michele sees a problem with corporations being unable to judge the return on investment of scholarships.
Rutgers graduate student Nick Amado met Egbelu and Michele a couple years ago as a Rutgers undergraduate when PeduL was just a concept. He called it “truly incredible to see them be able to bring this idea to fruition. What’s even more incredible is that PeduL launched right in time for me before I started grad school.”
“I had received some money from school but it was not enough to cover everything,” Amado said. “I raised enough money for my first semester to cover the remaining costs on my term bill. Although I had used PeduL for grad school, I would have loved to be able to use it for undergrad. Kayla and Chisa are so helpful in guiding you through the page and providing tips.”
Thomas Wisniewski, managing partner of Newark Venture Partners, said NVP provides space for both MPAC Solutions and PeduL within its co-working community.
“MPAC does great work empowering founders of color and we’ve worked together in creating a growing network of diverse entrepreneurs thriving within the city of Newark,” Wisniewski said.
Wisniewski described Egbelu and Michele as natural entrepreneurs.
“They have really engaged our community through their use of NVP’s various resources and network,” Wisniewski said. “They are quintessential proof that Newark’s tech culture is growing, engaging young talent, and enriching lives here in New Jersey.”