Did you know that Kinvolved is a Women Business Enterprise (W/MBE), certified by both New York State and New York City? Did you also know that these certifications make it easier for schools and districts to work with Kinvolved, a business solving chronic absence, one of the most critical problems in education?
In the spring of 2012, Alexandra Meis, and I laid the early foundation for Kinvolved, a social enterprise that has launched a movement to elevate student attendance. As graduate students studying at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, we entered into and won the Fels Institute Policy Challenge at the University of Pennsylvania, with the blueprint for Kinvolved.
Alex, formerly a parent advocate at Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center, and I, a former history educator at the Park West Educational Campus, had witnessed the causes and effects of student absence at close range.
Based on our career experiences and an intensive survey of field and academic research, we identified two challenges, high absenteeism, and low rates of family involvement in school. More than 7.5M American, K-12 students miss a month, or about 10 percent of school days each year. In under resourced communities, up to 50 percent of youth miss school at this rate, categorizing them as chronically absent. By high school, students who are chronically absent have a less than 20 percent chance of earning a diploma.
But how could schools and districts, particularly serving an increasing volume of students who qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch, for whom English is a learned language (ELLs), and who qualified for Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), tackle this problem?
We founded Kinvolved to help answer this question. Kinvolved’s primary product, our mobile and web app, KiNVO, enables K-12 school and district teams to access informative attendance data and to engage families through real-time, two-way, translated, text messaging. Our customized professional development and local Community Attendance Summits support the integration of KiNVO into broader school, district, and community strategies.
Kinvolved launched with a pilot in one Harlem elementary school in 2012. In 2016-2017, we nearly tripled Kinvolved’s revenues and user base, compared with the 2015-2016 school year. And, we know our solution is working. Our most recent impact report proves that partner schools increased attendance by a rate 13 times that of the average school.
While 2016-2017 was our most successful year, yet, we have had to overcome several hurdles that could have crippled our small business. People often ask us about our biggest challenges. Now, five years into the business, I can draw out some common themes: initially slow customer acquisition, a desire to constantly improve the product to keep and grow business, and all the while, difficulty accessing startup funding.
So, why should schools, districts, and nonprofits, with a variety of companies with which to contract in the marketplace, seek to do business with M/WBEs like Kinvolved? The challenges that we’ve experienced and overcome in the last five years have become part of the company’s DNA. The solutions that we have developed to these challenges make us a more appealing partner to our clients than traditional businesses.
- Many of the grants that schools, districts, and nonprofits earn require a specific allocation toward women-owned businesses.
In 2016, Kinvolved underwent a rigorous application process to earn both New York State and New York City Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) Certification. This opened up opportunities for Kinvolved to earn new revenues, earmarked for M/WBEs. It also opened up opportunities for our clients to find new sources of money to pay for our products and services.
For example, the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers provides an additional $1.1B in funding each year to schools, districts, and nonprofits supporting high need populations nationwide. The NYS awards require that 30 percent of funds be spent on contracts with M/WBEs. In conversations with prospective and current clients, many have been excited to learn that Kinvolved is now a Certified WBE, because there are so few businesses with this certification in our industry.
As another example, many schools, districts, and nonprofits in NYC earn grants for their good work from local politicians’ offices, such as Council Members, Assembly Members, and Borough Presidents. Many of these grants require a certain percentage of funding to be allocated to Certified M/WBEs, in line with Governor Cuomo’s goal for New York State to be the leader in M/WBE contracts in the nation.
This spring, for the first time since becoming WBE Certified, we earned such a contract with a school in the Bronx, which had won a grant from its local Assemblyman. This school had been seeking a budget to fund Kinvolved’s services for two years. With this grant, the school and it’s partner, the United Federation of Teachers, was finally able to launch a partnership with Kinvolved to improve their student attendance and family involvement.
2. Fundraising is tough! Women-owned companies need your business.
According to Fortune, “Venture capitalists invested $58.2 billion in companies with all-male founders in 2016. Meanwhile, women received just $1.46 billion in VC money last year.”
There is a plethora of factors that contribute to this gender disparity in venture funding. Factors range from the inherent bias of a heavily white, male investor base toward founders who reflect them, to women’s propensity to self-fund, rather than seek investment. In our experience, however, the latter is an effect of the former factor.
Because raising venture funding is less attainable for female founders, the businesses that they run more heavily rely upon revenues earlier on in companies’ life cycles than male-led companies.
3. Women will build a business that is more in tune with clients’ needs.
Businesses require capital to operate. Businesses also respond to the most immediate demands of their primary source of said capital. Typically, the main sources of capital for businesses are: investors and customers. As women-and-minority led businesses are less likely to raise significant investment funding than male-led ventures, they tend to then rely more heavily upon revenues from customers. Because women-and-minority-led companies are more reliant on revenues, they are under greater pressure to offer products and services that truly solve their clients’ pain points and to create stronger relationships with clients.
Kinvolved has raised relatively little investment capital, just over $1M since we launched five years ago. We have bootstrapped the company so that we can be primarily focused on delivering a product that solves core pain points, such as student absenteeism and constantly changing parent phone numbers, and delivering results for our customers, schools, nonprofits, and school districts.
Kinvolved has earned more in revenues over the last three years than we’ve taken in investment over the last five years. As a result, we are primarily focused on meeting the demands of our clients, rather than our investors. Based on the value of our product and the strong relationships that we have developed with our customers, we’ve not only experienced revenue growth, but also a 93% renewal rate, year over year.
Education as an industry is driven by mission, purpose, and social justice. It is also one that relies heavily on public tax dollars to make purchases. School and district purchasers should be both savvy and mission-driven consumers. By contracting with M/WBEs, education purchasers can be more assured that the companies behind the products that they purchase are solving real pain points for end users and beneficiaries, loyal to their customers, and accessible via grant funding.
To learn how to leverage Kinvolved’s New York State and New York City Women Business Enterprise status in contracting attendance and family engagement solutions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Miriam Altman is CEO and Co-Founder of Kinvolved. She is co-leader of the Attendance Subcommittee for South Bronx Rising Together, and a former NYC DOE high school educator.