#StartupsEverywhere: Charlotte, N.C.

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Christine Nicodemus, Co-founder & COO, SkoolAide

This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.

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Improving Student Learning with Startup Innovation

Charlotte, North Carolina has grown into a premier startup hub in recent years, helped in part by a ballooning number of startup-focused organizations and co-working spaces in the Queen City. To learn more about Charlotte’s burgeoning startup ecosystem, we spoke with Christine Nicodemus, COO and co-founder of SkoolAide, a startup that works to advance student learning and behavioral growth through goal-setting software.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? What is your background? 

I am a data science, finance, and goal-setting nerd. I studied Mathematical Business at Wake Forest before moving down to Charlotte. I’ve been fortunate to have experience working for two unicorn tech startups in Charlotte prior to SkoolAide. The first was a digital marketing company called Red Ventures where I worked on a travel app for The Points Guy, and the second focused on transportation and mobility apps for city governments. Following these experiences, I wanted to take what I learned and put it towards a social good product for students. 

Tell us about SkoolAide. What is it and how does it work?

SkoolAide creates gamified goal-setting software that engages students in their own academic and behavioral growth. With SkoolAide, students set short-term academic or behavioral goals, identify potential incentives for reaching those goals, build a team of supportive parents and mentors to hold them accountable, and assess potential career options to ensure their goals build a path to the successful future they see for themselves. 

How is SkoolAide improving student outcomes? 

Unfortunately, student engagement is on the decline, and a recent study from George Washington found that 40 percent of students are “chronically disengaged” in their academic pursuits. We change that trend through the use of our gamified goal-setting platform. Students who are motivated to actively pursue goals for themselves see significant gains in their focus in school, leading to a 12 percent increase in the GPAs of students using our platform. 

What makes the startup ecosystem in North Carolina unique?  

Charlotte is a city that draws different types of talent from all over the country, so there is a lot of diversity in the backgrounds of the people here. It’s also grown into a very nurturing community for startups—organizations like Pitch Breakfast, Charlotte Inno, 1MM Cups CLT, NC IDEA, the plethora of co-working spaces, and more—which has created a support system for new companies to get their footing. We’ve been astounded by the amount of support and enthusiasm that SkoolAide has received from the Charlotte startup community.

What are the most exciting or important developments that have happened to the local and statewide startup ecosystem in the last year?

I don’t think there is necessarily one event that has been a key development, but rather the consistent growth and broadening network of organizations that strengthen the network of startups in Charlotte and statewide. One of our favorite monthly events is a monthly pitch breakfast, where entrepreneurs can try out their pitch to a crowd of angel investors and startup community members. We actually had a few school district introductions come out of the people we met after being able to pitch!

Are there any policies at the federal, state, or local level that have helped Charlotte-based and startups statewide?

UNC-Charlotte’s Ventureprise innovation and entrepreneurship center has stood to help many startups in the region. Ventureprise organizes the annual Charlotte Venture Challenge, supports technology commercialization through customer discovery as a National Science Foundation I-Corps Site, and operates a student business incubator, 49er Foundry, for UNC Charlotte students.

Additionally, back in February, Governor Roy Cooper established a North Carolina Entrepreneurship Council to develop policies to support startups and entrepreneurs, and I look forward to hearing more about what policies they create.

From a policy perspective, do you have any wishlist items for the startup ecosystem in Charlotte, the state or nationwide?

Personally, I’ve been very thankful for groups like NC IDEA that provide non-dilutive grants to promising startups within North Carolina. I am hopeful that there will be governmental funding for similar efforts in the near future, given the opportunity for increased job opportunities within the state.

I would also advocate for opportunities for public universities to have funding to have graduate students in statistics or mathematics do objective evaluation of product efficacy. I think it would be an awesome opportunity to have startups be able to apply for a statistical review of their product’s value, especially as it relates to companies attempting to provide increased social good. 

What is your goal for the next year? The next five years?

Our goal for the next year is to expand the SkoolAide footprint. We currently help students in schools and mentoring organizations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin improve their academic and behavioral performance. We’d like to reach more students in each of those states and beyond.

Over the next five years, we’d like to continue our North American growth, but also evolve our product. We see a huge potential in being able to teach high school students the skills that are integral to career and college readiness, but that they might not be learning in school or at home—like financial literacy, time management, emotional intelligence, and mindfulness—and we think we can fill that void by adding a variety of learning modules and social learning components to our platform.

All of the information in this profile was accurate at the date and time of publication.

Engine works to ensure that policymakers look for insight from the startup ecosystem when they are considering programs and legislation that affect entrepreneurs. Together, our voice is louder and more effective. Many of our lawmakers do not have first-hand experience with the country's thriving startup ecosystem, so it’s our job to amplify that perspective. To nominate a person, company, or organization to be featured in our #StartupsEverywhere series, email edward@engine.is.