Small biz tech-startup: TopSchool Inc.
INITIAL LIGHT BULB:
In 2006, an L.A.-based startup called TopSchool came across the radar of Matthew Schnittman and Justin McMorrow, two longtime employees of Denver-based e-learning provider eCollege, when former chief technical officer Mark Resmer called their attention to the startup.
Justin McMorrow and Matthew Schnittman
After investing in the fledgling provider of “student lifecycle management” software in early 2008, Schnittman and McMorrow joined TopSchool later in the year as its president/chief executive officer and senior vice president of sales and marketing, respectively, and subsequently moved the company’s headquarters to the Denver Tech Center. They reworked the product, launched last summer and have since garnered about 15 colleges and universities as customers.
TopSchool currently has 20 employees in the U.S. and also works with nearly that many contract developers who are based in Macedonia.
IN A NUTSHELL:
TopSchool is the first company to offer student information systems via a “software as a service” model. The company’s student lifecycle management system offers a broad and flexible portal for students, administrators and faculty.
TopSchool manages data about students at every stage, from the time they are college or university prospects through their campus, job placement and alumni center experiences, McMorrow says.
“Essentially, it provides self-service to prospects. It’s a customer relationship management system to manage admissions, self-service for enrolled students,” he says. “It manages every aspect of a student from academics to finance.”
Student information systems are traditionally “the biggest expense in a higher education budget,” adds McMorrow, but the market is dominated by legacy systems underpinned by technology that was in vogue in the 1980s or 1990s. TopSchool’s system is a “better, faster, cheaper solution,” he adds. “Our technology is newer and our model is better. That gives us a tremendous advantage. We’ve had great acceptance in the market.”
TopSchool’s student lifecycle management system integrates with other systems that may already be in place, such as e-learning platforms like eCollege or accounting software. Pricing involves a minimal up-front fee and then volume-based pricing tied to the number of active students.
Among the company’s first customers is the Kenan-Flagler Business School at University of North Carolina, utilizing the TopSchool system since April for a new online certificate program.
“We were looking for an offering that was very flexible that would allow us to track our incoming students from entrance to graduation,” says Susan Cates, the school’s associate dean of executive education. “TopSchool offered us that without a huge up-front investment.”
TopSchool is currently targeting colleges and universities with fewer than 5,000 students. There are 3,600 such schools in the U.S., with a collective student body approaching 5 million. Because the dominant providers are not publicly traded, there is little in the way of dollar estimates for the entire market. There are about 17 million students in all at the nation’s colleges and universities.
Led by Alsop Louie Ventures, TopSchool’s Series A round of $3 million closed in February 2008. In a tough venture capital market, the company closed on a $7 million Series B round this February, with Alsop Louie and new investors Access Venture Partners, New World Ventures and Education Sales Management. Schnittman says the money gives the company “a couple of years of runway” to prepare for takeoff into the larger-school market.
Founded: 2006 in Los Angeles; relocated to Denver May 2008