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Meet Amy von Kaenel of VolunteerCrowd in Irvine

Today we’d like to introduce you to Amy von Kaenel.

Amy, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Eleven days after my middle son was born, I was contacted for a technology research analyst job. It was part-time initially, and I was able to work from home. Perfect. Over the next twelve years, I conducted over 1,000 enterprise software customer interviews. My primary research role spanned multiple industries. Education Technology was my favorite. I was captivated by technology’s role in learning and development. The sector was relevant to my children’s lives, making it all the more enjoyable.

I left research and began working at edtech start-up, Thrively, which started as an extracurricular marketplace. The organization pivoted to an assessment company. In the meantime, I was asked to join the inaugural Board of Directors for a national nonprofit teen volunteer club, Lion’s Heart. I gained a macro perspective on student service learning, and appreciation for how students struggle to discover, schedule, track, and validate volunteer projects.

Clubs are a good fit for many students. But for others, it’s too heavy of an obligation along with everything else students have to juggle. Clubs, schools, and faith-based organization serve a significant role in our communities by engaging students in community service. These organizations lack the scale and efficiency of a technology company. They cannot scale to meet the needs of 31M secondary and college students that will, at some point, volunteer. Knowing that many other fragmented industries overcame similar barriers, I launched VolunteerCrowd as a volunteer project marketplace and transcript platform.

Culturally, a lot has played out last decade that elevates the importance of student service-learning. Students struggle to find jobs, even academic rock-starts. The college drop-out rate is concerning. Students are often unprepared socially-emotionally for the maturity required to succeed in higher education. And perhaps most alarming is the runaway escalation of depression fueled by digital isolation and the subsequent lost in-real-life connections.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Start-ups will take every ounce of physical, intellectual, and emotional energy you have. You feel the weight of responsibility. Then again, you get to experience the rush of seeing a vision through to fruition and witnessing consumers’ reactions when you get it right. I’m fortunate. We have a household of serial entrepreneurs under our roof and a vast network of technology talent. With that said, VolunteerCrowd’s talent has come from all over the US. Our team is incredible – skilled, experienced, dedicated, and driven. My advisors have supported me every step of the way. And my school, UCI, is devoted to the start-up community’s success. We won the Paul Merage New Venture competition and are in the UCI Applied Innovation Wayfinder accelerator. We were one of eight semi-finalists in OCTANe’s Launchpad accelerator.

The biggest struggle so far is that education technology is not a substantial industry in Orange County. We have a nascent social impact start-up community compared to our technology hub counterparts in Northern CA, NY, Boston, and DC.

Please tell us about VolunteerCrowd.
VolunteerCrowd is the first volunteer project marketplace and transcript platform for college and career-bound students. Until VolunteerCrowd, it was easier for a student to have a Chipotle Burrito Bowl delivered during swim practice than serve his or her community. Students without access to volunteering through a school program or club membership had to do everything manually – search, request, and track their contributions. Volunteering is a critical factor on a college application. Employers value candidates with volunteer experience and all the soft skill development they learn in the process. There’s only upside to service-learning.

Societally and technologically, volunteering has to be just as easy as other tasks students can complete on their phones. VolunteerCrowd provides ubiquitous access and support to all students. We’re most proud of the barriers we’ve knocked down for one of the most beneficial things students can do for their communities and their futures.

That’s one way we’ve encouraged volunteering. The other is through validation. I recently learned of an OC school that dropped its mandatory student volunteer program. Why? Because students self-reported their service hours. Unfortunately, some students took advantage. Educators ended the program because they could not validate the student’s contribution. How disappointing to think of the hundreds of organizations and thousands of volunteer projects that won’t be supported. Think of the lost opportunities for students – the new friendships they won’t discover, the skills and confidence they won’t learn, and the lack of exposure to potential career paths. Maybe they’ll miss out on their reach school or dream job someday. VolunteerCrowd wants to work with schools to eliminate this risk, leaving school counselors to do what they do best – guide.

The transcript students create using VolunteerCrowd will open doors to their future.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Because I came from an organization that worked with students, I was familiar with the unmet needs of students who wanted to volunteer, but for multiple reasons, the club model did not work for them. I would have spent more time interviewing the stakeholders – teachers, college consultants, and edtech solution providers to this market. We’re discovering unmet needs in these sectors where VolunteerCrowd can play a significant role.

Bottom line: There is no such thing as too much direct customer and industry research.

Pricing:

  • Validated Volunteer Transcript and Portfolio Service: $10/month per student or $100/year if paid annually

Contact Info:

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