This KC startup is improving the college admissions process for high school studentsJake Slobe
Kansas City startup VU Scholarships is on a mission to change the way high school students enter and progress through the college enrollment pipeline.
The company’s platform matches high school students with college scholarships ahead of application. The idea behind the company was initially conceived by Edward Marquez in 2015. Edward grew and implemented this scholarship model while working for the Kansas City Kansas Public School District.
As word continued to spread about Edward’s scholarship model, the Shawnee Mission School district went all-in and hired Ed full-time to implement his model. Shortly after implementing Edward’s model, students in Shawnee Mission School District were offered $1.77 billion in scholarships, shattering the school district’s previous record.
After seeing the success in Shawnee Mission School District, Andrew Marquez and Dan Poblete saw the massive potential and, in 2021, the two founded VU Scholarships based on Edward’s model and vision.
“We wanted this thing to be shared with more high schools; more students needed access to this tool,” Andrew says. “The limiting factor to why it wasn’t being shared with more school districts is that it was a very manual process for a school district to implement and they had to go and build their own college partnerships.”
Previously, high schools faced the daunting task of managing extensive spreadsheets containing student data, which they had to manually collate with various colleges. VU Scholarships transformed this process by building out a platform that automatically determines scholarships offered at each university. By partnering with school districts and integrating their data into the algorithm, VU Scholarships efficiently calculates and reveals the scholarships students are eligible for.
“Now schools can just upload a spreadsheet, map all their fields and easily bring it into our system,” Dan says. “And almost instantaneously they’re able to see how much potential money students can save.”
After building out the automated platform, VU Scholarships began to expand outside of Kansas City and add more colleges and university partners. Today, the company is working with more than 40 high schools and is continuing to grow.
“Just recently we partnered with a district in St. Louis. They uploaded the 1,200 students’ data and within a few seconds we offered that district almost $1.2 billion in scholarships,” Andrew says. “From a district perspective, it’s a very easy way to provide a ton of value to students and parents, with very little effort.”
$20,000 Funding Boost from Digital Sandbox KC
VU Scholarships was one of four companies to receive funding from Digital Sandbox KC for the organization’s second-quarter 2023 application cycle. The company will receive up to $20,000 in project funding to help accelerate toward commercialization.
Andrew first learned about Tech Venture Studio and Digital Sandbox KC while attending a Capital Raise boot camp earlier this year. While attending the boot camp Andrew met with Tech Venture Studio’s senior director Jill Meyer who connected Andrew with the numerous resources that exist within the UMKC Innovation Center.
“That was the first event I had gone to which got me plugged into the ecosystem that is TVS and really got the ball rolling,” Andrew says. “Around the same time, I connected with Chris Rehkamp of Tech Venture Studio and Michael Carmona of KCSourceLink who got me seriously thinking about applying.”
In preparing to pitch to Digital Sandbox KC, Andrew and Dan worked with Sally Williams, the Technology Development and Commercialization Consultant at the Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC.
“The process has been great. We worked with Sally very closely over the last month or two,” Andrew says. “Sometimes it can be easy to be constantly working in the business and not zoom out. She really helped distill what it is we’re doing and package it up in a way that someone can easily understand.”
Andrew and Dan plan to use the Sandbox funding to develop a mobile app.
“A lot of high school students are more comfortable using an app,” Dan says. “It’s the way they know how to communicate. We’re just trying to get on their level and remove any barriers that prevent them from adopting and using the platform.”
The mobile app will also allow VU Scholarships to add more functionality to its platform as the company grows.
“Right now, we’re kind of limited in the amount of functionality we can add in because it’s a mobile website,” Andrew says. “Once the platform is on an app, we’ll be able to fold in multiple layers of functionality to further benefit the students and parents.”
Looking forward, Andrew and Dan want to continue to strategically grow the company and partner with colleges and universities across the country.
“Our long-term goal is to have VU available to students all across the country,” Andrew says. “We want every student to see the immense potential they have by awarding them scholarships from colleges before they even apply, making the college admissions process more exciting, effective and transparent.”
By removing barriers and showcasing college scholarship possibilities, VU Scholarships is reshaping the landscape of college admissions. With its user-friendly approach, this innovative platform is empowering students across the country, fostering their dreams and aspirations on their journey toward a brighter future.