TESS MICHAELS, 20, of University City, is a social entrepreneur and a Penn senior pursuing a dual degree in management and life sciences. The Philly native is the founder and CEO of Soceana, a startup that launched in January with tech-enabled platforms to generate social good.
Q: How'd you come up with the idea for Soceana?
A: I volunteered a lot in high school and saw a need for a unique approach. At Wharton, I found that the corporate space was an effective way to bridge volunteerism with philanthropy.
Q: What's Soceana do?
A: It's a software-as-a-service platform connecting companies, volunteers and nonprofits. It matches volunteers with skill-based roles, measures social impact by tracking their hours and where they volunteer, and motivates them through an engagement platform that enables people to organize events, upload photos and message each other.
Q: Startup money?
A: We bootstrapped and took advantage of Wharton's resources and grew that way. I have a very supportive team.
Q: Value proposition?
A: With corporations, it's a way to boost corporate responsibility and hone skills that employees use in the workplace. A second value-add is improving youth participation in community service, lowering student dropout rates and building transferable skills for higher education. We offer an innovative way to bridge philanthropy and volunteerism to increase impact of donations.
Q: Your customers?
A: We have five customers, and we're in discussions with four large companies.
Q: The biz model?
A: We look at [fees] based on the size of a company. For smaller companies, it's about $1 to $1.50 a month per employee, and for larger companies it may be less than that. For a school, it's about 20 cents per month per student, and that's usually paid for by a private partner, not the city or schools.
A: Companies could build a platform like ours, but it takes resources away from their core competencies. We have access to a vast nonprofit network and an engagement platform.
Q: Biggest challenge?
A: Staying focused and finding the right team.
Q: How big a biz is this?
A: We have four full-time team members.
Q: What's next?
A: We're building a team in San Francisco to further capture this market. We expect to go out for a round of funding of about $500,000. We recently initiated youth-volunteer projects in Wilmington, Del., and Plano, Texas, to integrate Soceana into their school systems. These are public-private partnerships, with large financial institutions as sponsors.