Q&A / ACCEPTD
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Serving up simpler college auditions
By Debbie Briner • FOR COLUMBUS CEO MAGAZINE
The competition for admission into the nation’s top college performing-arts programs is grueling for potential students and professors alike. A company created by entrepreneurs Derek Brown and Don Hunter is finding success as a Web portal that simplifies the audition process.
Acceptd is an online application platform that allows students to audition for their top-choice programs without the expense of traveling to multiple campuses for small windows of time in crowded auditions.
“We saw a need in the marketplace to help students interested in the performing arts be able to apply to the school of their dreams,” said Hunter, the company’s president.
- Now in its third year, Acceptd has 39,480 users, and 5,623 programs have admitted Acceptd applicants. Hunter sat down with Columbus CEO magazine to discuss the company’s origins and its future.
Q: What inspired you to develop this online platform for digital application and audition submissions?
A: Derek and I were always interested in creating opportunities for students. We were lucky to go to the college (University of Cincinnati) we wanted to go to and (get) scholarships to help us go there. So we really worked hard there.
We started talking about “How can we create these similar opportunities for others?” We noticed the rise of students using video in their college applications to get accepted to schools that are hard to get into. There was a trend of voluntarily submitting videos with their Harvard essays or applications. We started trying to figure out how that could be applied with the use of performing and visual arts audition tapes.
Q: How quickly has Acceptd caught on?
A: We started with two schools in the fall of 2011: our alma mater, the University of Cincinnati; and Otterbein (University). We said, “Hey, do you want to give this a shot and see if it can help you?”
Today, we’re up to 400. That includes schools, festivals, competitions, marching bands, professional-level services and even some high schools.
Q: What benefits does Acceptd offer to both students and programs for the performance and visual arts?
A: For students as well as families, they can spend a lot of money on audition tapes, production costs, traveling across the country to audition at schools, hotel costs. From a university perspective, you’re holding live auditions all around the country and may be watching upwards of 1,000 students, but maybe you really only need 30 for your program. It’s a lot of extra work and a lot of extra time. Acceptd is a recruiting tool and also an educational resource. We want to help students learn about performing-arts and visual-arts programs that they otherwise would not have heard of. There are even great associate-level community college programs out there. There are great fits for everybody.
Q: How were you able to fund your startup?
A: We completed the 10x Accelerator program at the (Ohio State University) Fisher College of Business. We got a $500,000 investment to us through a partnership with TechColumbus and NCT Ventures. Another $75,000 came from three private investors. Just this past spring, we got an additional $1 million through TechAngels.
Q: Does Acceptd charge a user fee for this virtual service?
A: We follow a normal business model with tiered pricing to deliver our services. It’s free for institutions or programs. Applicants pay a nominal $25 fee (per application). Students with limited or no financial resources to apply can use our fee waiver program.
Q: Some universities and other arts programs are using a virtual portfolio service that you now offer. How does that work?
- A: Applicants can submit a virtual portfolio of their work and auditions and a public profile or a discoverable profile. It’s especially helpful for programs that might not be as well-known. We now have over 20,000 profiles for music, theater, dance and the visual arts. Say a program is looking to recruit a student with a 3.8 GPA who’s into theater or stage management on the East Coast. Schools can access profiles submitted to our site to recruit students to match their program needs. We just debuted that in the summer. That’s been a great tool and resource that both sides seem to be very excited about.
Q: What do you hear from clients that you find the most gratifying?
A: One of the biggest compliments we get is how great our customer service is. We like to follow the Zappos model. If you call Zappos and you want to order a pizza, it doesn’t matter that they do shoes. They find a way to help you get pizza.
We want to provide new and innovative services to blow our customers away. Probably the other thing that’s really satisfying is that Acceptd can be used by students who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to apply.
1550 OLD HENDERSON RD., SUITE E175
Business: Online application platform for performing- and visual-arts college prospects
Year launched: 2011
Owners: Don Hunter, co-founder and president; Derek Brown, co-founder and CEO
2013 revenue: approximately $700,000
Employees: 12 full-time, seven part-time
Anything which comes along that I hear about, which seems that it can offer benefit to kids trying to get their educational stuff nailed down or ‘up and running’ should I say — well, I’m for it. And this sounds like such a great idea Go Acceptd! Jan)