10 years ago, I had an idea. Perhaps you’ve heard of the napkin-sketch-stage of innovation? On December 12, 2012, I came up with the name Allovue in order to complete an application to AccelerateBaltimore, a local seed-stage accelerator.
Here’s a snippet from that application:
Give us your elevator pitch, describe your business in 250 words or less. Please include what is innovative about your idea: *
Allovue is an integrated technology solution to help school leaders budget funds, track expenses, and analyze the impact of spending on instructional practices and student achievement. The budget tool will guide principals through the school-budgeting process with a series of information prompts and graphical representations of the budget (think TurboTax for school-budgets). The complimentary expense-tracking tool will integrate school expense records with the budget (think Mint.com for principals) to gain a more nuanced analysis of school spending practices as they correlate to outcomes like student achievement and teacher satisfaction and retention. Currently, individual school budgets are primarily maintained in Excel or entered into a centralized human capital management system, but there is no way to analyze the spending data across schools or school systems. By integrating the analytics with the budget and expense tracking tools, principals will have the option to make data-driven decisions based upon the best practices of high-performing schools.
In pursuit of this idea, I quit my job on the first work day of 2013 and took the plunge into entrepreneurship before I even found out if I had been accepted into the accelerator. Allovue was ultimately accepted to AccelerateBaltimore and our official anniversary, February 5, 2013, was spurred by the requirement to legally incorporate in order to receive the seed investment associated with the program.
Receiving our first $12,500 of funding from Deb Tillett, President, Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore, MD
I had a lot stacked against me in those early days: I was a first-time, non-technical, female founder venturing into an industry that was notoriously slow to innovate and historically under-capitalized. It was not a recipe for success. Receiving 330+ rejections while trying to raise an initial round of seed capital seemed to validate the improbability of success.
But there’s something else worth pointing out from that application:
Why should your company be selected for AccelerateBaltimore? *
The concept for Allovue was inspired through years of experiencing and observing the effects of school-based resource allocation – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I believe that I have an intimate understanding of this problem, as well as the needs of the customer (school leaders).
Yes, I had an idea for the solution, but more importantly, I was obsessed with the problem and committed to addressing the needs of school leaders. Tech in general, and edtech specifically, is riddled with solutions in search of problems. Understanding the problem to solve is the cornerstone of innovation, yet it’s a step of the process that is often skipped entirely.
Describe how you will self-perform the work associated with launching a minimum viable product in 90 days or less: *
The next stage of development will involve a series of interviews and focus groups with principals and district leaders in Baltimore in order to develop a comprehensive knowledge map of the budgeting process.
I spent the better part of a year listening to education administrators explain the problem. We didn’t begin building solutions until many months later. That listening tour produced a trove of information that has proven invaluable over the years. It was miserably slow, unglamorous work, but the knowledge and empathy gained in that year is something no amount of money could have bought. This spirit is built into the Allovue DNA. We started by listening to education administrators and we never stopped.
I have heard and seen a lot over the past decade. Some of what I hear gets me excited; some of it breaks my heart; some of it sends me into a rage. I constantly straddle the line between hope and despair for the future of public education. I am energized by the huge potential for innovation and terrified by a host of imminent threats to its solvency. I am proud of the strides we have made and daunted by the enormity of the task still ahead, especially the vast and persistent resource inequities.
In the months leading up to this 10-year milestone, I have reflected deeply on what we’ve learned and where to go from here. As I contemplate the circumstances of the pandemic and ESSER funds, the polarized political landscape, the challenges with teacher recruitment, retention, and compensation, the pension debt crisis, declining enrollment, and myriad other challenges, the constant refrain I keep coming back to is: are we doing enough?
I know Allovue will not solve these challenges alone. A thriving public education system will require concerted efforts in every sphere of influence, including technology, practice, capital, research, advocacy, talent, and legislation. We must work together to protect and elevate public education.
Allovue’s vision is that every dollar in education works for every student. We have not fulfilled this vision yet, but I invite you to join us in the effort for the next decade.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jess Gartner is the founder and CEO of Allovue, where edtech meets fintech - #edfintech! Allovue was founded by educators, for educators. We combine powerful financial technology with education data, giving administrators the power to connect spending to student achievement. Jess has been featured as one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 in Education (2015, 2016 All-Star), The Baltimore Sun’s Women to Watch (2013), and Baltimore Magazine’s 40 Under 40 (2013). In 2014, she was recognized as the Maryland Smart CEO Innovator of the Year in the Emerging Business category. Before founding Allovue, Jess studied education policy at the University of Pennsylvania and taught in schools around the world, including Thailand, South Africa, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. She taught middle school humanities in Baltimore City and received her M.A. in teaching from Johns Hopkins University.