EdTech Startup Q&A with Elena M. Cox, CEO of vibeffect

As seen in: edtechtimes logo

For today’s edtech startup profile, EdTech Times spoke with Elena “Ellie” Cox, founder of vibeffect. vibeffect provides a scientific method for college decisions, delivering unbiased, individualized, and data-driven results to increase the number of students entering college ready to thrive and complete a degree. The company’s proven scientific model allows universities to understand the features of their own ecosystem that promote student success on an individual level. Additionally, it enables families to decisively select colleges by providing an understanding of the features that correlate to a higher probability of thriving for their children.

Company at a Glance

What does your company do? Who are your core customers?

We study what it means to ‘thrive’ in college. This requires a qualitative understanding of each college campus, or, as well call it, ‘campus ecosystem,’ as well as an understanding of the attributes that make up you and me (or in this case, aspiring college students). From there, we create a scientifically validated personalized outline of what to look for and how to maximize any college ecosystem. Our core customer is higher education institutions, the consumer and k-12 institutions, all united around the end goal of more people thriving and completing their college education.

How did you come across the problem you’re addressing? What was your process of arriving at a solution?

With all the emphasis in America being put on creating “access” to college, we wanted to take a step back and make sure that we’re doing what we can to prepare incoming college students to thrive, succeed, and graduate. More access is great, but you want to create more access to success, not more access to fail. We were looking at the analytics of what happens when students enter college, such as the fact that 50% of freshman never get a degree. More than half transfer out of their first college and start over somewhere else. Our research yielded some other pretty shocking data sustained over a decade, and after we picked our chins up off the floor, we went about collecting evidence at the root of the problem and found out the lack of thriving wasn’t a lack or finances or academic preparation or anything else one might assume. It was how the decision is being framed and the lack of reliability in the data being used to match up students with their best possible future. That inspired us to create a new body of research and scientific model to illustrate exactly what does factor into thriving and completing in college based on the uniqueness of individuals.

We also looked at the problem from the perspective of the teenager. Teens are incredibly wise about what is and is not working for them, and we wanted to capture that data, validate it, and use it to help them pick a college ecosystem where they’ll be able to thrive. As you can probably guess, the process was quite extensive!

What are you doing differently than your competitors? Do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?

There are three big differences in what we do. First, we created a validated scientific model to form the basis for how qualitative distinctions are made between each individual and the various college ecosystems. Second, we involve the individual (in this case, a prospective college student) in making their best decisions based on what we can tell them about their potential to thrive. Third, we actually measure thriving across academic, social and individual spectrums in real time on college campuses and update that data annually.

In the future, we will bridge K-12 and higher education with one model for defining quality matching that accelerates a student and their attainment of a degree. Additionally, the family engagement built in to our process will create greater negotiating power for families in terms of making the college decision work for them and their future.

What are you working on currently? What should we expect to see from your company in the next 12 months?

We can apply our scientific model to every major moment in the process of a student exploring higher education options to entering a college to graduation. As such, we have several new products to release that address the different points, or opportunities, in that process. For example, in higher education, the decision to attend is often accompanied by a delay in gratification (i.e. starting) of 100 days or more. We are using our predictive science to allow students who’ve accepted a college spend the in between time getting real data on what features or aspects of that college ecosystem will lead to their highest performance and thriving. We call this working concept vibeThrive.

How are you changing the face of education?

We are helping education deliver its promise to students and to help those students realize and capitalize on their individual potential and create better futures for all of us.

What other startups or product builds have you been a part of, and what was your role? How has your past career prepared you for your current role?

I came from startups like One World Lab and Escape for Good, and I wondered how the technological solutions and creativity behind these models could apply to education today. After looking into the data about what’s happening at the individual level in higher education, I realized that things I learned from working inside these other models could fill a major gap for individuals in the education industry.

Who do you look to as a role model or mentor for your company?

This may seem out of left field, but my main inspiration is Muhammad Ali. I have a painting of him on my wall at home that I look at when I get knocked down and it always gets me up again. It’s not about the boxing for me, it’s about character—it’s about the skinny little kid who redefined what confidence means for his and future generations. And, I believe that confidence is the one thing we are diminishing in really talented young people today with the labels and scores and decision-making process around college. I love his quote about saying he was the greatest even before he knew he was, which basically means that no matter who was betting against him or how society viewed his choices, the one tape he played in his head came from his conviction about his potential. I see so many families and teens making choices around their own futures based on past performance or momentary limitations, a grade or test score or socio-economic level, rather than making decisions from a position of strength. Our model can offer students a chance to play a new tape in their heads as they enter college and complete their degree.

Where do you think the education technology market is going in the next five years, especially in your market segment?

In the next five years, I believe the edtech market is going to receive more early stage investment with a smarter vetting system for what can be scaled and what has a business model. We have a problem in ed tech investing and we are going to fix it—right? That’s my thing, unearthing problems and improving.

What advice, if any, do you have for someone launching a company in the education technology market?

Imagine the exit or IPO in every level of detail from the beginning and if you do not know how to do that hire someone who does. If you have never sold in education and the education system is your market, do not pass go or collect $200 without a co-founder who has done this successfully.