For eight years, Sean O’Brien traveled across North America and Europe as a professional hockey player fighting his way throughout professional hockey on a mission to become an NHL Player. Now he’s fighting for change in a different arena entirely with his new mission-driven EdTech startup, Affordable College, designed to help more community college students succeed. He decided to bring his early stage EdTech startup back to Syracuse, New York to launch the company’s new community college success platform. But why Syracuse? And how will Sean’s new venture help retain Upstate’s college graduates and support our region’s venture ecosystem?

It’s no surprise that a number of entrepreneurs are choosing to launch their startups here in Upstate NY given our regions 115 colleges and universities, and the ongoing need for growing companies to acquire fresh talent. In fact, Upstate Venture Connect conducted a recent survey that revealed the CEOs of Upstate NY’s high-growth companies are hiring a large number of college educated employees. Download the 2017 CEO Survey

However, roadblocks to acquire a college education exist, including the price of tuition and the lack of accessibility for some low-income students. Even if enrolled, another potential issue is the loss of credits when a student transfers schools. When students attempt to enroll in a 2+2 program, where the first two years of college take place at a community college, and the last two at a four-year university, certain credits may not transfer or apply to a student’s chosen major. This results in the student losing valuable time and money. Could this have been prevented? O’Brien thinks so and that’s why he’s setting out to grow his EdTech startup. O’Brien has always been involved in education as an entrepreneur and came to believe in the untapped potential of partnering with community colleges. He said, “Designing around a community college specifically created opportunity for both students and our organization. No one else was focusing on community colleges like that.” O’Brien saw that potential, specifically in Upstate NY.

Affordable College launched in September 2015 as a public benefit corporation with a mission to help more community college students afford and obtain a degree seamlessly. By partnering with with colleges, the EdTech startup works to provide a success platform to ensure students reach their goals, and that no transfer credits are lost. By attending community college first with access to Affordable College’s platofrm, students complete their degree on time – and for less money.

The target audience for Affordable College mirrors UVC’s UNY Ecosystem Map. Two major partners of the organization are Onondaga Community College (OCC) in Syracuse, NY and Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC) in Utica, NY. O’Brien explains that students from these colleges represent enormous human potential as individuals, and believes that together, they can collectively lift the college completion and economic levels within the next decade. He mentions both Dr. Casey Crabill, President of OCC and Dr. Randall VanWagoner, President of MVCC as leaders with startup mindsets in the higher education sector.

Happily, O’Brien explains the economic impact of Affordable College and how the program has helped hundreds of students thus far. Students save an average of $30,000 on a bachelor’s degree by transferring successfully. The goal is to help thousands and tens of thousands in the near future as the organization expands. The more students that graduate with higher education results in an even stronger workforce, which creates solutions for the local economy.

Earlier this year, Affordable College’s research proved that students overwhelmingly want more help on understanding what courses to take to get where they want to go. Within days of launching their new platform, Affordable College received hundreds of inquiries. “The demand is definitely there,” said O’Brien.

As a public benefit corporation, Affordable College’s ‘success fund’ also raises money for the community colleges with which they partner. The Community College Success Fund provides financial support for community colleges with the goal of increasing readiness, enrollment, retention, and transfer.

O’Brien hopes that more colleges will embrace the startup mentality. In doing so, it will help grow the region’s economic impact while investing in the future of students and education.

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