Schools are strapped for cash, especially schools serving children living in low-income households. Andyshea Saberioon, co-founder of Houston-based PledgeCents, has created a crowdfunding platform exclusively for those school to help them find the funding they need for basketball uniforms, the latest Artemis Fowl books (the kids love them), or a field trip to the art museum.
Saberioon says that the idea for PledgeCents came when he was watching a TV with his dad.
“Last summer, watching this show with my dad I was introduced to crowdfunding. I immediately called Ricky and asked, ‘How can we get on this?’”
Ricky Johnson and Saberioon have been best friends since eighth grade, Saberioon tells me, and they had always joked about starting a business together.
“Our families are entrepreneurial in nature,” Saberioon says, laughing. Building and “making something has always been a part of our lives…you learn that you get as much out [of launching a startup or business] as you put into it.”
In order to focus on PledgeCents with Johnson, Saberioon is in the process of moving back to Houston after living and working in Atlanta. The two friends are bootstrapping the education focused crowdsourcing platform, and Saberioon says geographical proximity is important in order for PledgeCents to get off the ground. That’s not the only reason, though, he’s heading back to Houston, a city known more for oil, the space shuttle, and one of the country’s largest medical centers.
“In Atlanta the tech startup scene has been booming with places like Georgia Tech,” Saberioon says. “There are more accelerators and incubators, and Atlanta seems to be producing some of the most innovative [funding] platforms out there.” But, he continues that, with PledgeCents, he and Johnson want to demonstrate that “you can still create a startup in a ‘non-tech’ environment.
“People get the wrong impression, that you have to be in New York City, Silicon Valley, or Boston [in order to launch at startup]. We’re trying to prove otherwise.”
Saberioon has been busy “proving otherwise.” PledgeCents had a soft launch back at the beginning of March with beta testing in Houston, followed by a hard launch in mid-April to coincide with the National School Boards Association Conference and Exposition, held this year in San Diego. Saberioon says that school administrators and policy makers at the conference responded positively to the idea of putting funding in their teachers’ hands and seemed excited to bring the idea back to their districts.
Neither founder is technical, Saberioon tells me. When I asked him about regional tech talent, he admits to finding a web development firm in NYC. “They’ve been great,” he says. “We can call or email them at 3 a.m. and they’re always there.”
PledgeCents’ successful campaigns, however, have come closer to home. To date two Memphis charter schools have the distinction of being PledgeCents first pair of campaigns. One school needed study carrels to seperate students during tests (no cheating!), while the other wanted to begin a teaching garden for hands-on science and nutrition lessons. Saberioon, who attended Rhodes on a basketball scholarship, says that as non-educators he and Johnson want to help schools because of his friends who have become teachers, many of them as Teach for America Corps members.
Small-scale, project-based crowdfunding is a cramped market. PledgeCents differentiates itself by pledging to release funds even if a project doesn’t hit its goal, which is a switch from many other platforms, even those aimed at nonprofits. Schools and overscheduled teachers are often weary of giving a lot of energy to promoting campaigns that don’t guarantee funds. Saberioon says that he wants to create a successful business–of course–but he also wants to help schools and students. To this end, PledgeCents sells branded bracelets and donates funds to worthy ed causes once a month.
“We aren’t just a website,” Saberioon says. “We want to create a better education system for youth.”