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When Jaime Martinez and Bret Larsen graduated from Arizona State University, they each wanted to make an impact in their communities.
After a few years of work and life experiences, they founded their own companies to achieve that goal.
Now, both executives are seeking investments to grow their companies during ASU Enterprise Partners’ InvestU pitch event Oct. 22, which matches accredited investors with ASU-affiliated, early-stage technology companies.
“I’m trying to get money to hire more people,” Martinez said of the upcoming event. “I want to share what it is that we’re doing and am hoping to meet people that understand the education, business and software side of things.”
Martinez graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2010 and a master’s degree in education from Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in 2012. He launched Schola in 2016 as an online platform to streamline the recruitment and enrollment process for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade public and private schools.
Schola enables parents to research schools in their area based on their child's needs and interests and enroll online for free. Parents can choose from a variety of criteria including school type, grade level, teaching style, curriculum focus, school features, gender-specific, school programs, religious affiliation, foreign languages, athletics and special education needs.
“There are three barriers that prohibit parents from exercising their right to choose a school,” he said. “Lack of education — not knowing other schools around you are an option, accessibility — less than 10% of schools offer online enrollment, and transportation.”
Martinez said these barriers are significant for low-income families, and he has experienced them firsthand as a student and a teacher.
“A lot of my education was not the best public education I could receive,” he said. That changed in high school when his father started a better paying job and they moved to Mesa where he graduated from Highland High School. “I had a great education, great teachers and people that actually care about you. I saw how much of a difference that could make.”
After graduating from ASU, he signed up through Teach for America as a sixth grade teacher in a low-performing school.
He taught kids who were between third- and 12th-grade reading levels, and he was supposed to teach them all the same, he said. That is when he realized that there are other schools focused on students’ specific learning needs and interests, so he started helping parents find the appropriate schools for their kids. Later, he worked for charter schools.
“All of those experiences taught me what I needed to start Schola,” he said. He joined Seed Spot incubator in 2016 and later was accepted into the LearnLaunch Institute ed-tech accelerator in Boston to develop his business.
When Schola launched its new platform earlier this year it operated in five cities in two states. Now it operates in 220 cities in 29 states. Schools do not pay to be listed on the site. Schola makes money selling premium features to schools such as customer-relationship management technology.
Larsen graduated from the W. P. Carey School of Business in 2012 with bachelor’s degrees in marketing and accounting. While at ASU, he exported citrus to customers across the country, until he sold his company.
In 2014, he launched eVisit, a telemedicine platform that links large hospital systems and physician groups to patients for improved outcomes and revenue. The company is now serving patients in all 50 states, enabling health care systems to simplify the care they provide through virtual visits.
eVisit processes patients’ copay and insurance information, medical records, chief complaint and symptoms, and then doctors review the information and connect with patients virtually.
The company has partnered with several health care systems including HonorHealth, Ascension, Advent Health, Concentra and Moffitt Cancer Center.
eVisit is solving access to care when the average wait time to see a primary care physician is 20.3 days and to see a specialist is even longer, Larsen said, adding that eVisit saves 30 to 45 minutes per encounter.
Martinez and Larsen applied to InvestU, a program that links accredited investors with ASU-affiliated startups that are at the early or growth stages of revenue generation. All investment opportunities are vetted by graduate students taking a new course on startup investing and an advisory board.
InvestU was formed by ASU Enterprise Partners and the former Thunderbird Angel Network to provide funding opportunities for startups that need a financial boost as they scale their companies.
While investors do not need to have a tie to ASU, many of them do, said Robby Choueiri, InvestU’s program lead and associate director of venture and investments for ASU Enterprise Partners. To date, two have secured investment deals through InvestU and another company has investment commitments.
“There are three constituencies to InvestU: Early-stage startups with roots out of ASU, students who have the ability to engage with local investors, and the investment community that wants to invest in these startups,” Choueiri said.
During the pitch event, the company CEOs pitch their companies to the investors and the graduate students present their research findings about the investment opportunities. Then investors express their interest in investing and conduct their own due diligence in the following weeks. No final deals are made at the event.