Less than two years ago, Jon Halpern and Dylan Fox were strangers competing against each other in the 2012 GW Business Plan Competition. The budding entrepreneurs didn’t realize it at the time, but that event marked the beginning of a friendship that would soon evolve into a business partnership.
Melding their business models together “just made sense,” according to Mr. Fox, who graduated from the George Washington University last May and has since worked fulltime on his company, Crowdvance.
“We’re both very serious about our startups,” he said. “Jon and I had a similar mindset about doing this for real, and we kind of just stuck to each other because of that.”
Mr. Halpern co-founded AthleteTrax when he was a sophomore in 2011. AthleteTrax is a software solutions provider, which allows coaches and student-athletes to manage their academic and athletic lives more efficiently — through integrated scheduling, instant communication, video, workout tracking and form management.
AthleteTrax has a partnership with the GW Department of Athletics and Recreation as well as with Catholic University and a high school in the Pittsburgh area. But recently, the company decided to expand its client base to collegiate club teams and wanted to integrate a fundraising component into its application — which is how Crowdvance came into the picture.
Crowdvance is an online platform that helps nonprofits and community organizations engage more donors while raising funds. What makes Crowdvance unique is that the company partners with national companies— such as Hulu, MovieTickets.com and Hotels.com. Those companies provide donors with free gift cards as a reward for making donations through the Crowdvance platform.
“The fastest growing fundraising channel nonprofits use today to raise funds is collecting donations online from individuals. With a lot more people getting hit up to donate, we found a lot of donors were burning out,” Mr. Fox said.
By providing rewards for donating, non-profits are able to engage their donors and supporters in a much more effective way, Mr. Fox said.
And by partnering with big, corporate sponsors, Crowdvance is also able to remain completely free. In its initial stages, the company collected a 6.5 percent service fee from each organization that utilized its service. But the company has removed the service fee, making Crowdvance the only free, for-profit online fundraising platform of its kind.
Instead of trying to create a fundraising aspect of AthleteTrax, Mr. Halpen integrated Crowdvance into his company’s model. When collegiate club teams decide to utilize the AthleteTrax, Mr. Halpern directs them toward Crowdvance. The companies are working together to incorporate the Crowdvance technology into the AthleteTrax platform, so that the club users can fundraise without being redirected to a separate platform.
“It provides value to his company as well as ours,” Mr. Halpern said.
Both Mr. Fox and Mr. Halpern have already experienced great success with their young companies. AthleteTrax won three prizes in the 2012 GW Business Plan Competition, including second place overall, and Crowdvance won third place. Last spring Crowdvance won first place in an international business plan competition at Texas Christian University.
While Mr. Halpern’s and Mr. Fox’s entrepreneurial journeys have not been identical, both have invested significant time into their respective companies.
Mr. Halpern is currently a senior, but he splits his time between Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh. AthleteTrax was accepted into AlphaLab, a 20-week accelerator program that provides startups with mentorship, office space and workshop sessions.
Mr. Fox works full time in D.C. with a team of six. He said both he and Mr. Halpern’s success can be attributed more to hard work than to luck.
Both said they are thankful for GW’s Office of Entrepreneurship and the GW Business Plan Competition for their successful partnership. The entrepreneurs may have never met if it was not for GW, Mr. Halpern said.
“I think the competition definitely does a good job of helping foster that collaboration, because you have a sense of what other students are doing,” he said.
Mr. Fox said many of his professional relationships have been fostered by the GW entrepreneurship program, and he still remains in close contact with Jim Chung, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship.
“Entrepreneurship is tough, but the university is a great place to start the journey,” Mr. Chung said. “We are here to help you along, and have lots of resources for students to take advantage of.”
He said he hopes that entrepreneurship at GW will become more integrated into curricula. Society in general, he said, is becoming more accepting of entrepreneurs.
“I think that entrepreneurship has gotten a lot sexier,” he said.