Startup Story: CampusESP

Written by Riley on May 13, 2014

An introduction to one of the first
PSL Accelerator startups

The PSL Accelerator started this year with an inaugural class of 11 startups.  This is the first in a series of introductions to these startups, and the founders behind them.  I sat down with Dave Becker to learn more about him and his startup CampusESP (Campus Experience for Supporters and Parents).

What is CampusESP?

CampusESP is a next generation engagement portal for parents, focused on student success.  We work with colleges to keep parents informed and involved constructively. 


Why would anyone want that?

One of the universities we are working with called it "pennies from heaven"!  Most people don’t realize how involved parents are in higher education, and colleges are struggling to keep up.

Research shows that the average college student interacts with their parents 14 times a week.  Over 60% of college parents have their student's ID and passwords.  And 1 in 3 college parents have resolved school issues on behalf of their student.

We offer solutions to universities' problems with parents.  They don't have a reliable list of parent email addresses, much less a way to meaningfully engage with parents and family. CampusESP provides universities a single channel to communicate with and notify parents.

How’d you come up with this idea?

I was focused on retention and student success from a student engagement perspective.  I quickly learned that parents and family were far more engaged today than they have been in the past. 

I turned our focus from engaging directly with students to engaging with the people that influence student success.


What made you go "startup"?

I spent 15 years in a big company, focused on product rather than problems.  That sounds like splitting hairs, but as SVP of Product Management, most of my conversations were focused on revenue, technology debt, and personnel issues.  We had a very internal focus (although we professed not to).

I decided to go “startup” to get back to solving real world problems, to work more closely with customers, and build something that has never been built before.

What have you gained from Philly and PSL?

Sometimes just getting started is the hardest thing.  What makes Philly different is all the support that comes organically from the community.

We were very fortunate early on to be connected with PSL and accepted into their first Accelerator program.  We’ve had the chance to work with mentors, advocates, and entrepreneurs who have helped shape our direction.

We’ve also gotten a lot of support from the community at large.  The only thing I can compare it to is the "Jeep wave".

If you've ever owned a Jeep Wrangler before, you know that when you pass another Jeep on the road, you give them a quick wave. It's sort of a "we're in it together thing".  And no matter how crappy your Jeep is (mine doesn't have AC, and the left turn signal only works if you hit the horn at the same time) there's a sense of possibility of where you can go and what you can do.

That same sense of possibility exists in the Philly tech community.  It takes a lot of endurance to build a company from the ground up, and everyone in Philly wants to help each other succeed.

I just think Philly needs a "Philly Startup Wave".


What are your plans for the future?

To continue to gain traction and more paying customers.

We're selectively working with about a half dozen early adopter schools. These schools are providing feedback and access to their students and parents.  To date, we’ve surveyed over 2000 parents, administrators, and students, which has helped us identify the most urgent problems around parent engagement and define our solution.

We have a team working on our beta portal which is targeted for roll-out this fall to “incoming parents”.

We’re also talking with some national organizations about how they can use our tools to provide more research insight into the role of parent involvement.  Most of the public data is 5 years or older.  I don’t think most people realize how connected college parents are with their children.

Follow CampusESP on Twitter to continue following their story.