“Within 10 years, I went from a farm in Iowa to HBS,” says Brent Grinna, the founder and CEO of EverTrue.
But how? How do you go from a farm in the middle of nowhere to the country’s best business school?
A strong alumni network—a network Grinna has been striving to strengthen since 2010, the year he founded alumni networking platform EverTrue. And today, with the announcement of a $5.25 million Series A led by Bain Capital Ventures, he will be able to continue doing just that.
“I had personally benefitted so much from everything that higher education stands for,” Grinna says, reminiscing on his childhood. Neither of his parents went to college, nor did college ever seem financially feasible. So, he started participating in sports, and was ultimately recruited by Brown University to play football. “I would have never been able to attend Brown if it wasn’t for the generosity of donors and financial aid.”
Grinna took the reigns as captain his senior year and, as a result, was granted exposure to Brown alumni who once played for the team. They took the time to mentor Grinna, eventually helping him land his first investment banking job out of college in Chicago.
The problem with Chicago, however, was that he didn’t know anyone, which is why he volunteered to be the Windy City’s Brown alumni coordinator. The role helped him not only build a new network, but land his second job at a private equity firm. While there, his colleagues wrote him his recommendation letters for HBS.
Once in Cambridge, Grinna was approached by his alma mater and asked if he wanted to lead his class’ fundraising campaign. Soon after agreeing, he received a spreadsheet spilling over with classmates and largely outdated data of where they allegedly lived and worked. The painstaking process inspired him to start researching the nonprofit, fundraising sector to see if the problems Brown faced were universal.
It didn’t take long for him to discover: they were.
Before he knew it, he was a finalist in Harvard Business School’s Business Plan Contest, and was soon sitting down next to Flybridge Capital Partners’ Jeffrey Bussgang, Boston Globe columnist Scott Kirsner and PayPal Media Network’s Walt Doyle, the president and CEO of WHERE, at a conference.
“I had never heard of any of them,” Grinna says, admitting how much he had to learn about the startup scene. But, Doyle opened the doors of his North End office and gave Grinna office space and a chance—a chance that helped him meet his co-founder Eric Carlstrom and later get accepted into both TechStars and MassChallenge.
Through TechStars, EverTrue was able to raise a $1.3 million seed round, and meet several of the company’s current investors, customers and employees. “I’m very loyal to that program,” Grinna says, noting their quick progress. “Since then, we’ve added more than 100 schools to our platform. Now, we’re in a position to build a platform that goes from 100 to 1,000 schools.”
EverTrue’s first mobile platform utilizes data from LinkedIn and Facebook to serve as a fleshed-out hub for alumni to connect to their alma mater and to each other. Users can discover new mentors or reconnect with old classmates with one simple search, while also gaining access to an activity stream, featuring community news, events and the like. On the flip side, schools are able to connect to donor databases through the app, receive real-time data and more easily fundraise. Because of that, EverTrue’s place now rests at this intersection of institutional and social data.
“We really want to draw insights around that data,” Grinna says, referring to future goals, adding the new funding will help EverTrue build out its product and engineering teams. “But, funding is not success, it’s an opportunity to build something.”
And that building will continue to take place in Boston indefinitely.
“People here understand education,” he says. “People understand when you talk about rising tuition costs, rising unemployment around recent graduates … People understand those issues here better than anyone else in the country.”
With over 50 colleges and universities in Boston alone, his argument is valid. Here, people understand the dilemmas EverTrue is trying to solve, including TechStars Boston mentor Ty Danco, who’s previously shared his logic behind why he invested in the company.
Danco has been one mentor of many, however, and Grinna praised the city for its “amount of mentor capital,” thanking Doyle for welcoming him in when he had no product, no co-founder and no funding. Today, outside of Bain, EverTrue was able to raise their Series A with support from existing investors Boston Seed Capital, TechStars CEO David Cohen, Bonobos CEO Andy Dunn and Trunk Club CEO Brian Spaly.
“[Boston] has just been a great place,” Grinna says.