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Between classes, practices, games and studying, student athletes have a lot going on. Throw in community service, which is not only an encouraged piece of that puzzle, but often a required one, and you officially have space to drop the ball, so to speak.
A former student athlete herself, Krista Clement saw a void in the student athlete volunteer system and set about changing it when she started Helper Helper: an app that allows students to easily search, track and report volunteer efforts. The St. Louis-based startup currently has a partnership with NCAA DI and DII schools, totaling more than 370 universities and colleges on the platform.
Clement is a SLU MBA grad, a former Teacher for America corps member and 4-time captain of the University of Michigan Women’s Basketball team—all experiences she combined in her work with Helper Helper. We spoke to her about her pathway to entrepreneurship and what’s going on the platform as the 2016-2017 academic year begins.
When I was little, my grandmother used to tell me to be a “Helper Helper girl”. However, it wasn’t until playing basketball in college, joining Teach For America, and then starting graduate school at SLU that I realized Helper Helper was the idea designed for me by my experiences.
Once I saw the positive impact a program like Helper Helper could make on the lives of student-athletes across the country and the communities where they live (student-athletes are often expected to do community outreach) – I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could make it happen.
Helper Helper received an Arch Grant this summer; What’s going on with the company right now?
We were thrilled to win an Arch Grant this summer. The timing for this recognition was perfect as it aligns with a partnership we formed this summer with the NCAA Division II and their 307 member schools.
Right now with Helper Helper we are onboarding the 307 NCAA DII Schools to join the 65 NCAA DI schools currently using Helper Helper. Schools use Helper Helper to coordinate and track all the community service they complete. Essentially, we help streamline the entire volunteer process for schools.
With an influx of more than 100,000 new student-athletes using Helper Helper this fall semester, there are new opportunities with the NCAA to bring on corporate sponsorships and expand into new markets.
What is the toughest aspect of your job?
One of the toughest aspects of my job is my boss … me :). I have high expectations for myself—something my coaches instilled in me from a very young age. I never wanted to get outworked by anyone. Even though the expectations I have for myself make it possible for me to be able to dedicate a lot of time to my work, finding flow in the balance of work and life is something I’m constantly learning.
What is the most rewarding aspect?
Working with our clients and my team and mentors is the most rewarding aspect of my job. The people we work with in collegiate athletics are dedicated to showing student-athletes how their skills transfer to the community and beyond. Knowing that Helper Helper is “helping” student-athletes be better prepared for life after college is definitely high-five worthy when our team is together! My team strives to achieve similar goals and reaching those goals is the best!
What are the goals you have as you look to the future?
There are ton of opportunities for Helper Helper. The 350+ athletic departments that currently pay for Helper Helper provide a great avenue for us to expand into other departments and colleges as-a-whole. In addition there are some 37,000 high schools in the U.S. where groups of students are required to track their community service efforts.
We’ve built a platform that is used regularly by some of the most tech savvy young people in the country. These young people are influencers on their college campuses and in the communities in which they grew up. They will be key to helping us expand into the high school market.
As we grow each day, we also look three years into the future. In three years, Helper Helper will be the bridge between community needs and volunteers. Our platform has always been designed for the volunteer, making their life as a helper as simple as possible. Like Uber has bridged the ride sharing gap, we see ourselves being able to do the same in the community by connecting volunteers with needs in areas where they can help. At a time when millennials place value in companies that do good for their community, there is a huge opportunity to drive engagement among young people on our platform.
What is some of the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I ever received is from Dr. Jerome Katz. I was sitting in his entrepreneurship class at SLU, and he told us that entrepreneurs fail seven times before they actually make it. He didn’t say this to discourage us but rather as a challenge (“I dare you to ‘make it’ before seven fails). At least that’s how I took it. Without Dr. Katz, I imagine I would have been too afraid to take a risk like starting Helper Helper. Knowing that success is often built off failure made the challenge seem to be something anyone could do.
Who is another founder or professional, local or not, that you admire and why?
Mrs. Anne Albrecht has always been someone I have admired. She’s incredibly smart, a fantastic mother, and one of the first people who truly believed in my idea.
How do you wind down in your off time?
In my off time I like to play tennis, snow ski and hang with my family.
If you weren’t running Helper Helper, what would you be doing?
If I weren’t running Helper Helper, I’d probably still be teaching at Compton Drew Middle School in St. Louis. My students and the people I had the opportunity to work with during my four years there were incredible. I often think of how my experience as a teacher prepared me for the bootstrapping we’ve done with Helper Helper. Teachers always find a way to do what’s best for their students even if it’s taking money out of their own pocket.
Can you talk about a moment of doubt, when was it and how did you overcome it?
During my time as a student-athlete, I experienced many moments of doubt. So heck yes, with Helper Helper there has also been doubt. I can remember talking with my sister last March. My bank account was nearing zero and I was pretty exhausted. At this point I had that super uncomfortable feeling all over, the kind you get when you’re only focused on the problem.
But just like my experience as an athlete, I remember that discomfort was often a sign that I was putting myself in the right position to achieve my goals. Quickly shifting away from the problem and into the solution has been key for me. Being able to believe in myself is one of the best gifts my parents gave me! It is really powerful, especially in times of doubt.