The most powerful quote I’ve read recently was that of Huston-Tillotson’s own Madame President Dr. Collete Burnett who said: “Education is the civil-rights issue of the day”.
Just as the dream of equality inspired Martin Luther King during the civil rights era of the 1960s, the vision of education equity is the driving force of Melvin Hines Jr., who is the founder and CEO of Upswing. This Austin based Educational (Ed) Tech Start-Up uses a customized engagement approach that has proven to be highly successful in helping the online and nontraditional students. Many of these students are adult learners who juggle with their pursuits of higher education coupled around the responsibilities of parenting and work.
Melvin felt that it was crucial and critical to serving this demographic not only because it was a good deed, but because he himself saw his parents go through that same process of progress. The pendulum of the process in the pursuit of higher education many times is weighed down by students’ struggle to balance academics and real life. Due to having parents who were able to become the first generation, college graduates, all while raising him and his siblings, Melvin was able to appreciate the fortitude and support needed to complete college. He experienced this firsthand in high school after his incoming freshman class of over 250 students decreased to only 68 by the time he graduated. This ignited his passion for finding a way to empower students to literally take their futures into their own hands. Fast forward to the present day where most students are obtaining their educational counseling and support through virtual means either online or through their smartphones. This is where taking the future into their own hand comes into play. Upswing is a smartphone accessible virtual assistant and student services platform that caters to online, first-year and adult learning students. This combined demographic consists of roughly 80% black and brown people which leads us to the topic of diversity in Ed Tech Start-Ups from the venture capital and funding perspective.
Melvin will be the first to call himself lucky to establish great networks when explaining his “upswing” journey. His educational background includes attending the University of Georgia for economics, graduate school at Duke University for business and law and teaching law at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) North Carolina Central University. His academic experiences have allowed him to create an education support platform that has over 80 colleges and universities across the United States and Canada that utilize it to better engage and retain their mobile students. Upswings’ modern approach to engaging students is rooted in their virtual accountability partner Ana. Ana interacts with the student through text during their college journey from enrollment all the way through graduation. Upswings’ results show that students are 5 to 10 times more likely to engage with Ana than with traditional email outreach used by school administrators and counselors.
You would think that success rates like this and additional supportive data would allow Melvin and his pitch team the leverage to get venture capitalists who value education to support Upswing, but unfortunately, this is not the case.
Melvin states “Many investors have looked at Silicon Valley CEOs to get a perception of how a successful CEO in tech should look, and unfortunately those who are most well-known aren’t minorities.”
This hurdle of perception has proven to be a challenge for Melvin as a black male when making pitches to venture capitalist who don’t have the lived experience of being a nontraditional student. Less than 1% of entrepreneurs who get funded are black and brown. This overall lack of relatability shows in the amount of funding being given towards black founded startups in all industries.
In fact, investments in minority and women-owned businesses (MWBEs) are 80% lower than the median investment in businesses overall. MWBEs could account for $6.8 trillion in gross receipts if they matched their percentage of the labor force and if business revenues were equal to traditional firms. This would represent nearly three times the current output of these companies, which means there is a missed opportunity of $4.4 trillion. Despite these hurdles, Melvin keeps marching to the beat of his hearts’ drum. He envisions his future being a change agent for non-traditional students through policymaking as a disruptor of the current system that can lead to the evolution of education equality.
Upswing has a goal of helping 50,000 non-traditional students graduate by 2020 using its platform and has already done so for over 26,000 students. Melvin’s “no student left behind” attitude continues to fuel his purpose-driven life and we look forward to seeing an expanding talent pool pipeline as he gets more in the” start-upswing” of things.
The learn more about Melvin Hines, his journey, team, his amazing company and visit Upswing.