Raikes School-born Vestn aims to add ‘portable value’ to education
Phil Baylog (from left), Conner Dana and Brian Cary have raised $100,000 for Vestn, the first undergraduate student-led project chosen for the Raikes School Design Studio.
The idea for Vestn — a "tool for providing portable value in education, personal development, and personal marketing" — started with co-founder Conner Dana's search for some help with a college class project.
As a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in early 2011, he figured he could find a fellow student to do some graphic design by asking friends and networking across campus. He was surprised that it took him three weeks to connect with someone who lived right down the hall.
By last summer, he and co-founders Phil Baylog and Brian Cary (both then students in the Raikes School of Computer Science and Management) pitched Dr. David Keck, the Raikes School's executive director, to let Vestn become the first undergraduate student-led project for its Design Studio.
"He took a risk on us," said Dana, 23, who graduated in May with a degree in business management and marketing.
"But he saw what it could turn into," said Cary, 22, who is finishing his degree in computer engineering. "If we let students run their own projects, we could turn into this cool entrepreneurial program."
Keck agreed that the Raikes School wants "to support entrepreneurship and economic development on one level, but we also know that we’d like to, more and more, build the education around activities and projects that the students are engaged in and passionate about."
He also said the school was careful about taking project sponsorship funds from a Design Studio sponsor that is less than established and that might not be able to bear the risk of a student-produced project. Before giving the go-ahead, he asked the co-founders to contact some sales prospects around Lincoln to vet the idea.
Cary and Baylog led the Design Studio team, with Dana acting as the client. As a whole, they said, the team took on extra ownership of the project, going beyond programming to perform market analysis, design features, and talk to potential clients.
As an alternative to the traditional résumé, Vestn allows users to upload any type of media to a profile.
Version one of Vestn launched in January, and version two is scheduled for release this summer, with more app-like, intuitive design. In between, the co-founders pivoted from a human resources platform focused on serving employer-clients to a product that allows schools to add value to their students' education.
They realized, "'wow,' it's kind of hard to get companies on and people on from both ends without really promising anything from either end," said Baylog, 22, who graduated in May with a degree in actuarial science. "It has to start somewhere."
In its current form, Vestn aims to provide users more to show for their education than just a paper résumé. Vestn is designed to enable students to visually document their experience. It aims to help employers find employees with the skills they need. And it strives to help universities to advise students about how to round out their education with classes or internships, to market their students and graduates, and to maintain alumni engagement.
Universities and alumni associations can sign up and offer Vestn to their networks for a free or reduced fee, or anyone can join for a small fee.
With $100,000 in private investment, all three co-founders are pursuing Vestn full-time, have hired two of their Design Studio team members, and are expecting their first sales this summer.
“I think that the commercial viability looks really good," said Keck, "but most importantly for us, at least in phase one, is that we felt that we added lots of value and gave them the opportunity to go to market with a good product.”
Credits: Photo and screenshot courtesy of Dana.