Mentor Collective shakes its boots off to evolve student support services – TechCrunch
Mentoring is an essential ingredient for a student’s success. The request for a platform to make the art of consulting more accessible is thus easy for entrepreneurs to identify and then pitch, but serendipity — or the chasm between what makes someone an effective mentor versus just a speed dial for questions — is harder for them to scale.
Startups that want to grow mentorship across different industries need to build a diverse and present supply of mentors, enough to accommodate the variety of students in today’s society: ranging from the part-time graduate student who is busy with parenting duties, to the burnt-out first-generation Ivy League star, to the engineer who just broke into tech but struggles to find work-life balance.
For Mentor Collective, a Boston-based startup founded in 2014, it took time to find answers to the challenges and opportunities of mentoring at scale. The startup, founded by Jackson Boyar and James Lu Morrissey, began by virtually pairing students with mentors and over time added more structure and management to its marketplace. It addresses the human questions of “how do you support intrinsic motivation” through participant surveys and algorithmic matching – while tackling the diversity of student needs by creating different programs for individuals first generation, adult learners, veterans, BIPOC and others.
To date, Mentor Collective has 165 higher education institutional clients, including the University of Colorado at Denver, Penn State and Dartmouth. He also works with companies such as Wells Fargo. On the supply side, Mentor Collective claims to have trained more than 50,000 mentors since its launch.
While companies and competitors including BetterUp and Sounding Board have racked up hundreds of millions of dollars, Mentor Collective decided to start over the past seven years. CEO and co-founder Jackson Boyar thinks the long game was necessary to not take on too much money too soon, like some other edtech start-ups he’s seen launch quickly and fail faster.
“Even though it has taken a long time to get to where we are, we are confident to spend this money and know that it will not have a negative impact on students,” Boyar said. “It took us half a decade to figure that out, and if anyone thinks it takes six months, that’s a bit audacious and unrealistic…if your mission is to do good, you probably have to adapt this state of mind.”
Boyar today announced that his company has raised $21 million in a Series A funding round led by Resolve Growth Partners and continued investment from Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based foundation that aims to make lifelong learning more accessible.
Boyar initially started the business thinking it would be a non-profit organization. Although that has obviously changed since then, he thinks starting a business by aggressively focusing on “the effectiveness of the product with the expectation that it might not make as much money” has helped build a key base. .
“If you’re trying to convince a dean or provost of a university to buy something and you don’t have a randomized controlled trial that shows the impact on students, it’s kind of silly for you to ask me to spend $100,000 on your product,” he said.
The founder decided it was time for some serious cash when the company doubled its revenue last year, now approaching $10 million in annual recurring revenue. The most important step? Mentor Collective has finally started offering more predictable results for students, he claims.
According to an analysis conducted by Dr. Jenna Harmon, Head of Mentoring Research and Dr. Joe Sutherland, Head of Data Science, Mentor Collective contributed to a 3.84% increase in student retention and a 14% increase in sense of belonging.
“These numbers may seem low at first, but even 1% retention is meaningful in education… 4% out of a class of 5,000 students is 200 fewer students dropping out of school,” said Boyar. The magic metric for the company, as he just explained, is how it reduces dropout rates in schools by giving students more subjective support. In monetary terms, if Mentor Collective can prove that a mentor increases a student’s chances of graduating, it shows that the university will earn more tuition revenue by using their service.
Another company, EdSights, raised millions for a chatbot that connects students to resources or support services. “In a perfect world [where] we kind of had a magic wand that allowed us to collect the data on anything we wanted on our fingers, what would we want to know to prevent [college] students to drop out? said co-founder Claudia Recchi in a previous interview.
“Our form of mentoring is about finding someone who identifies, or at least can relate, and connects them with you at the right time on that journey, so you can create a greater sense of belonging, that you’re more likely to graduate, that you get all the social mobility that college promises, but ultimately isn’t offered to students who don’t look like the traditional student,” said said Boyar.
Currently, more than 50% of Mentor Collective’s cohort of mentors are non-white and 36% identify as first-generation students. For now, the company relies on volunteer mentors to support its mission, but now, with the backing of venture capital, it could be under pressure to start paying the people who make it money. The COVID-19 pandemic helped the company secure 83,000 mentorships in 2021, double the previous year and an increase from 19,874 in 2019.
Looking back, Boyar thinks his business could have been even more disciplined in its early days. The demand for mentorship means there are dozens of use cases for the platform, and the company often gets a variety of clients, from libraries to the military. While saying yes can work for short-term growth, the true effectiveness of mentoring in these areas is vastly different from person to person.
Now, with new incentives in place at the top of the company, Mentor Collective will have to make a series of choices about how to stay thoughtful and ambitious in its growth.