HGN: No more door-to-door: Local tech company reboots the fundraising model
Four years ago, when Pam and Tom Cooper were looking for a way to work together, a seed of an idea began to germinate.
A merchant and software architect, respectively, the couple hoped to combine their talents into a business.
The couple’s experience inspired them to look at school fundraising. Pam remembers when her grandmother was a teacher. Students sold magazine subscriptions to buy the first projector for their school. It’s been the same way for 60 years, Cooper explained.
In 2013, the Coopers applied to several accelerator programs across the country. The Seed Hatchery in Memphis made the best offer with a $15,000 initial investment. The couple relocated from Indianapolis and began working on the Boosterville model with Start Co. partners.
Memphis, as the Coopers found out, is a more than suitable environment for a startup due in part to accelerator programs like those housed at Start Co.
Start Co. is in its seventh year operating as entrepreneurship support organization in Memphis. One of its accelerators, Seed Hatchery, focuses on software and hardware as a service for an enterprise customer.
Ultimately, the summer-long programming culminates in a demo day where teams present their business models to potential investors.
“We specifically help those looking to build high tech, high growth businesses with technical and business assistance, access to mentors, access to capital and technical resources, and other key support to help founders startup up quickly and correctly,” said Start Co. founder Eric Mathews. “If we are successful, we will create economic prosperity that will last beyond our lifetimes for Memphis.”
More than 40 companies have graduated from Memphis accelerator programs and secured more than $40 million in investment.
Boosterville’s concept is simple. The app streamlines the process between merchants and the fundraising efforts they take part in whether for schools, faith-based or nonprofit organizations. Supporters can visit a participating merchant, buy what they want, and have a portion of the cost go to their organization. The entire exchange is automated.
“Rather than the school having to sell $50,000 worth of cookie dough and wrapping paper, our platform makes it easy for supporters, parents and teachers to patronize a local merchant instead,” Cooper said.
Currently, when a merchant hosts an event like a spirit night, the fundraiser brings in flyers to post and sends out notifications to supporters. The night of the event, the merchant and fundraiser keep track of the total purchase. They give it to a manager who tallies the donation and cuts a check two weeks later.
Boosterville gives that model a much-needed upgrade.
“We automate that activity. We know merchants get a bump in transactions when they host a spirit night. That’s partly why they do it. The innovative piece is automating it with technology so the merchant and fundraiser can take control of the message,” she said.
With funds from the Seed Hatchery in hand, they studied the market. A strategic investment was made to the National Parent Teacher Association to get their ear. Additionally, Boosterville was an exhibitor for two years at the National PTA convention where they watched for possible competitors.
“We started looking around for any kind of innovation that was happening in this space and we couldn’t find any,” said Cooper.
Tom Cooper developed the software platform which is four years in the making.
“Our technology is simple and based on our integration with the Visa network. But the technology we are using didn’t exist four years ago. It’s called card linking,” Pam Cooper explained.
The Visa program tracks customer spending at specific merchants. It then sends immediate notification about points or cash back earned. Visa deals with the card registration and links it back to a Boosterville account. The software watches for that token to hit a registered merchant during an active campaign that meets the threshold of a qualifying purchase.
“We get the real-time notification about the transaction that can be shared on social platforms. The consumer also gets a text immediately once their card is swiped saying letting them know their purchase contributed $1.20 to their cause,” Cooper said.
Fundraising didn’t stop with the seed money the Coopers raised in Memphis.
Last year, they earned funding from a second accelerator in St. Louis. And by the first quarter of this year, they raised $830,000 from investors in Indiana.
In February, the program officially kicked off. The couple hired an eight-person staff to handle social media, software engineering, marketing, finding merchants and nonprofit matching through corporations.
They are also in talks with local organizations to launch in the Bluff City by summer. They’ve been working with Mathews at Seed Hatchery to get the Memphis piece launched.
“I think the most important support for launch comes from the network of supporters, fellow founders, mentors, and others that actively engage to ‘blow wind into the sails’ of these startups,” Mathews said.
“Boosterville, like many of our startups, reaches out to Memphis area startups and peer founders to add users, customers, channels and more to support local and national product launches.”
Through their development, the Coopers have a strategic relationship with the National Parent Teacher Association and have loaded in 32,000 parent-teacher associations across the country in the Boosterville app.
Now they have moved fully into the investment phase. They are working to capitalize on the connections they picked up from the competitor and moving their product into place.
“We are getting ready to ramp up the investment strategy and scale out Boosterville nationally. The next phase will be a CA (capital ask) in the few million-dollar range. All of this work is being nailed down now.”
Trips to larger markets like New York and Boston are in the works for investor presentations.
Long-term, the Coopers see Boosterville as a version of Amazon Smile without the limitations. They envision a program that is more attainable and open to any merchants. All the merchant needs to do is accept Visa. Boosterville does the rest.
Opportunities for the Boosterville platform to expand into corporate give-back programs are also in the planning stages.
To the Coopers, Boosterville seems like it’s on the brink of a national innovation.
“We are ready to start executing and scale it up big.”