For the startup Eau Claire, success takes a village
Noah Plewa knows the lifetime value of extracurricular activities better than many. – from summer camps to sports teams – have on young learners.
The Eau Claire native followed a relatively unconventional educational path: part of his youth was homeschooled and he attended grades 7 to 12 at Wildlands School, a public charter school based on projects. at Beaver Creek Reserve. With the help of opportunities offered throughout the community, he was still learning – even though he wasn’t always (or even usually) in a classroom.
At Minnesota’s Carleton College, he considered following his father, Dr. John Plewa, into medicine, but instead, he earned a philosophy degree in 2019. He ended up working for a software company based in Twin Cities. which served school districts and others, an experience that led him to launch his own unique startup: VILLAGE.
“I think I knew I wanted to solve problems,” he says of the early days of his career. “I was just looking for the right problem to solve.”
I have a jaded vision of many companies created by young founders.
I think a lot of times the first thing they do is get an Instagram account and start spitting stuff up, and I wanted to wait until we got some progress.
The problem he eventually identified was the challenge of connecting providers of extracurricular activities with families who want to access them in a simple and comprehensive way. These providers – which can include anyone from school districts and YMCAs to small nonprofits and music teachers – typically have to create their own websites and registration systems, devoting time and effort to them. money instead of providing their services. Any parent who has tried signing a child up for extracurricular activities knows that this plethora of platforms can be annoying to navigate. In addition, children from low-income families often do not have access to these opportunities because they cannot afford the necessary fees. This is one of the main reasons why 40% of American children don’t participate in any extracurricular programs, Plewa said.
This is where VILLAGE comes in to serve providers, families, “centers” (usually school districts or other large organizations serving children) and donors. “Every city in America has these four things,” Plewa said. “The problem is, they don’t talk to each other. What we do is sort of being the translator. We help them talk to each other so that they can all pursue their interests. “
Ultimately, VILLAGE aims to be an Airbnb-style online service that seamlessly connects providers and families in a community in one place. Plewa and her team are in the process of expanding their services at Eau Claire and eventually hope to expand them to serve communities nationwide.
And this is not just an idealistic vision: VILLAGE has a lot of money behind it as well as an innovative business structure. In addition to the initial money from a pair of angel investors, VILLAGE received an injection of $ 475,000 in November with the help of Winnow, a Wisconsin-based venture capital fund, as well as investors. private in New York and Los Angeles.
As for its corporate structure, VILLAGE is a “hybrid social enterprise” made up of two entities – one for-profit, the other for non-profit – which work together. (It’s a unique arrangement that was built from the ground up with the help of New York lawyer Allen Bromberger, an expert in the field.) The for-profit side provides access to investments that will allow for VILLAGE to develop its software, while the non-profit side allows VILLAGE to accept donations (from organizations, foundations or individuals) to help low-income families access the programs. In fact, VILLAGE received a grant of $ 25,000 earlier this year from the Mayo Clinic Health System to build its capacity.
“When we get a dollar in a city, we can spend that dollar in that city just by focusing on children’s access to the platform,” Plewa said.
Over the past year, VILLAGE has built a team from coast to coast: Plewa, the CEO, and two others (including her mother, Trish Cummins, an entrepreneur and former member of the Eau Claire school board) are based in Eau Claire, while others work remotely from Minneapolis, Seattle, Los Angeles and North Carolina. In the coming weeks, it will face its first public test: On December 7, it was due to start accepting applications for a vacation program run by Power of Perception, a local mentoring group for black and Métis children. Other current vendors who have signed up include the Pablo Center at the Confluence and I AM Elite Track & Field, and more are set to join us in the near future.
VILLAGE has been relatively quiet so far, but that will soon change if it becomes the one-stop-shop for families in Eau Claire that Plewa is considering.
“I have a blasé vision of a lot of companies created by young founders,” he admitted. “I think a lot of times the first thing they do is get an Instagram account and start spitting stuff up, and I wanted to wait until we got some progress.”
Now that progress is underway, Plewa is excited to share VILLAGE with her hometown.
Learn more about VILLAGE on partners.village.com.