How KC’s Claude Harris Transformed His College Prep Business into a Tech Startup
Claude Harris knows first-hand that a great high school GPA alone isn’t always enough to unlock the doors to that ideal college or university. And that bugged him for years.
“I had a 3.875 GPA, but I scored a 17 on my ACT test,” he says. “No one at the guidance counselors office told me how to prepare for the test. I left a lot of money on the table. ... I didn’t know back then it was a seed being sown in my heart that would actually catapult me into owning my own business.”
Today, Claude has come full circle. The 46-year-old runs the Overland Park-based College Coaching Network, which gives students and their parents access to guidance counselors 24/7 through their mobile device (to avoid those headaches like he encountered as a student).
But when Claude originally started the company about seven years ago, it didn’t offer the sleek mobile experience it is today. In fact, Claude initially didn’t even realize he had a tech business.
“Imagine you have 500 emails from students that want access codes to your program,” Claude says. “Great problem to have 500 students. Still a problem because you have to key all those in. … So the app has made our life a lot easier and has put me in a better position so we can grow.”
OK. So how exactly did Claude go from handling a boatload of faxed documents and email applications to running an user-centric app that’s integrated with his company’s existing software?
He had an epiphany.
“I thought, ‘OK, I need to think bigger and figure out how I can take this process and scale it out to more people on a national level, not just here.’”
And then he got connected.
“KCSourceLink basically gave me an opportunity to know about the resources that are right here in my own backyard,” he says. “If you don't know which way you should go, they will direct you in the right path and make sure that you get your business where it needs to be.”
Claude got his Personal Action Plan (you can your free plan, too, right here), which outlined the organizations that could guide him on his first steps on his journey … and beyond.
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His first major step was with the ELEVATIONLAB™ NEW VENTURE course, which he says helped him craft a digital product with the feedback and guidance of his peers, coaches and experts. That’s where he says the seed of his idea for an app really started to bloom into a real-world product.
From there, he landed a spot in Pitch Perfect, an 11-week boot camp through the Enterprise Center in Johnson County that supports founders who are looking to raise at least $250,000. At the core, the program teaches leaders of early-stage companies how to land the funding they need to crush their benchmarks for growth and expansion.
“We actually did a business valuation on the company that was around $2.5 million to $3 million,” he says. “Blew my mind that that was a valuation they came up with for my little company!”
And then Digital Sandbox KC gave him validation to actually get the app created.
But even as he learned more about the inner workings of the tech business, he says it was really KC’s entrepreneur community that gave him the confidence and the connections to move forward.
Claude says 1 Million Cups gave him a platform to share his message and get feedback from the community … and even reach folks, he says, who’ve expressed interest in investing his idea. The Heartland Black Chamber also gave him an opportunity to inspire fellow entrepreneurs and connect with an organization that’s growing its own educational outreach programs in the community.
It wasn’t just Kansas City’s entrepreneur resources that helped Claude build a tech enterprise from scratch — a critical group of three young beta testers also gave him valuable feedback along the way: his daughters, the first of whom is preparing for her own college journey.
Even with all those wins, College Coaching Network is still in its early stages. But it already has powerful success stories.
Logan Crompton, who graduated from Raytown High School in May 2019, received the maximum amount of aid from the Kansas City Art Institute. Claude says another student Alyssa Hernandez was able to get a full ride to Calgary College. (Claude even visited a campus with her.)
As Claude continues to leverage the right resources and help for his business (he’s also among the most recent cohort of the Sprint Accelerator), that support lets him hone in on mission of his business: to make college more affordable for more promising young minds.
“I'm grateful I was chosen to be a catalyst who can help bring students and universities together for the benefit of making sure that people have the ability to get scholarships to go to college,” he says. “So, it's all about empowerment, right? And if you do good for other people then it automatically comes back to you.”
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