Looking to tame the college application process for high-schoolers and their parents, two recent graduates of the Oregon Executive MBA program have launched a new online service. Called Apply101, the venture had its start as a course assignment.
It all started when Natalie Miller, MBA ’14, was tasked to come up with a business idea for the financial analysis course taught by Gudrun Granholm. Looking to her experience as a former college admissions advisor, Miller identified a gap in the marketplace.
“There are lots of resources out there to help students find colleges, and there are lots of resources that help them find scholarships. But there is nothing that teaches them how to apply,” said Miller.
The concept Miller came up with was an online application that would automatically generate a streamlined list of all required tasks and deadlines for students when they entered the names of the schools to which they were applying.
“Apply101 is like a TurboTax for applying to college,” explained Miller. “It aggregates all the requirements for applying to every college in the country.”
Miller’s work became the basis of her capstone project, the thesis-like assignment that culminates each student’s time in the Oregon Executive MBA program. The impetus for Miller to transform her project into a real business came from Dave Preston, her capstone advisor.
“We were sitting down and looking at how much it was going to cost to start it, and it wasn’t that much money,” said Miller. “Dave asked me, ‘If someone is writing your obituary, do you want it to say that you are the founder of Apply101 or not?’ and I said, ‘Yes! I want it to say that,’ and he replied, ‘Then you have no reason not to do it.’”
Miller’s business partner came from the executive MBA program as well. Steve Baer, MBA ’14, was a member of Miller’s study team. The more he heard about Miller’s idea, the more interested he became. For Miller, Baer’s financial know-how was the ideal complement to her own visionary energy.
“I’m not scared of getting my hands dirty and figuring it out, but I needed someone who could provide that financial level-headedness, which was totally Steve,” she said.
Throughout the process of developing their business model, Miller and Baer made sure to take advantage of the business savvy of the rest of their cohort, receiving valuable feedback every step of the way.
Apply101’s soft launch took place in September 2014, just three months after Miller and Baer graduated from the Oregon Executive MBA. The business is off to a great start and has already met more than 25 percent of its enrollment goal.
Though Miller and Baer currently monetize the site through ad revenue, their future plans include generating revenue by providing data to colleges and universities. The business partners also believe the Apply101 model can easily be adapted to other deadline-driven processes.
“We’re kicking around the idea of creating a software called Done101, which would be basically the same platform but you could use it for anything. To plan your wedding, your son’s bar mitzvah—whatever you want to use it for, you’d be able to do it,” said Miller.
What advice do Miller and Baer have for others who want to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams? For Baer, it’s all about taking advantage of the many resources the Oregon Executive MBA program has to offer.
“If you have any idea that you want to explore, take the two years and really use your classmates to bounce ideas off. You have all these tools: professors, advisors, and other classmates,” said Baer.
“Don’t be afraid,” added Miller. “It’s not an all or nothing proposition. You can still have your full-time job and give it a shot.”
Photos: Paul Swortz