When the clock tower at the University of Texas shines orange, it’s a signal to students, faculty and staff that at a momentous event has occurred in the Austin campus community. Often, the honor is reserved for a Longhorns’ sports championship, or for Commencement Day.
On May 31, 2014, it lit up for Dan Driscoll (OP Class of 2014) and his UT colleagues for not one, but two significant honors related to not one, but two separate startups.
reQwip, where Driscoll is CEO and co-founder, won first place at The Next Play Venture Tournament, which pits student-created sports-related business plans against each other. And Prepify.me, which Driscoll also co-founded, won a $20,000 prize in the Walmart-Net Impact Better Living Business Plan Challenge.
Prepify, in fact, was born during a 3 a.m. conversation at The Consortium’s Orientation Program three years ago, and nurtured in a corporate responsibility class at UT.
Today, both companies are enjoying substantial milestones. reQwip, a resale marketplace for expensive adventure gear, opened nationally on April 16, expanding its beta launch and seeing a 30 percent increase in registered users in three days.
Meanwhile, the $20,000 prize went toward funding the launch of Prepify.me, which offers free online SAT preparation to high school students. The site is about to roll out to 2,000 students in the spring for beta testing. Driscoll recalled the conversation he had in the wee hours one morning at the 2012 OP in Minneapolis with classmate Alex Richardson.
Driscoll, 32, who had co-founded a Washington D.C. nonprofit that combines soccer training with academics for disadvantaged school students, knew many bright kids struggled to get to college in part because they were poorly prepared for the SAT. Driscoll mused aloud with Richardson, who was an admissions officer at another university, about how the SAT is the No. 1 barrier to keeping high-performing students out of a top colleges.
“He said top colleges are struggling to recruit disadvantaged students, especially those of disadvantaged backgrounds,” Driscoll said. Universities spend a lot of money to recruit students, and Richardson said they would pay handsomely for introductions to promising students. And thus, Driscoll said, a business model was born.
As a student registers and progresses through Prepify.me’s preparation program, the system can flag the promising ones en route to a strong SAT score. Universities pay for the opportunity to meet those students and recruit them for their undergraduate programs.
“When people are born into a situation that creates unfair barriers to their achievement and success, they’re not the only ones who are losing. We all lose,” said Driscoll, who now serves on the Prepify board while his wife runs the company. “We don’t know what kind of contribution they could make in medicine or science or social movements.”