Client Name: Claudia Tobon
Business Name: Launch Now
Business Website: www.launchnow.org
Industry: Educational Technology
Location: Stratham, NH
SBDC Advisor's Name: Warren Daniel
For 16 years, Claudia Tobon and her husband, Rich Carroll, have been a staple in homes across New England through their company, Geskus Studios & Yearbook Publishing, which is the ‘go to’ company for school pictures at over 650 schools. School pictures connect parents to the memory of their ‘growing all too quickly’ child, extended family to the kids they don’t see often enough, and students to memories to last a lifetime. Today, Claudia has created a new connection between students and career pathways, through Launch Now.
Launch Now is a platform that assists middle and high school students in discovering career interests through an interactive survey. The platform connects students with real work experience community partners who offer diverse opportunities.
While other databases like this exist, what sets Launch Now apart is that it’s centered around the student, not an algorithm. There are four portals in one: Student, Parent, Administrator, and Community Partner, that all work in conjunction to find potential career matches for students, as well as workforce matches for employers, all under the supervision of administrators. What’s more, the service is free for schools and students. Rather, it’s the employers who pay an annual fee and subscription to be a community partner on Launch Now, valuing it as an affordable and efficient way to build their talent pool.
It was by chance, in a casual conversation with friends, that the idea for Launch Now was born. The group had posed the question: “what are we doing for kids who are trying to explore careers beyond high school, or even during middle and high school?”
So, Claudia and Rich considered the connection and partnerships they had formed in the schools and began to reach out for interviews. “Through conversations with parents, schools and students, it was apparent that the key to students making decisions about their future was their experience in the workplace,” says Claudia. “I wanted to streamline this process by introducing technology designed around them.”
Through discovery sessions with the schools about what was currently being done to connect students to work experiences, Claudia found it all seemed to still be very “grassroots,” in that it was pen to paper, phone calls, follow ups, emails, and more follow ups, all in an effort to connect a student to an employer. Claudia states, “there was a one-to-many ratio that was plaguing some of the schools where they have a large student body and few administrators or school advisors who could help with this process. My mind was just blown that there wasn’t technology at play in this.”
As COVID slowed things down for Geskus, Claudia took the opportunity to get to work on creating Launch Now and established the new business as her own in 2020. Immediately, Claudia called in NH SBDC business advisor, Warren Daniel for guidance and support, who had assisted Geskus navigate applying for PPP and EIDL COVID relief funds.
Warren helped guide Claudia with overall direction and connected her to all the resources she needed as she needed them. She worked with NH SBDC advisors Ed Miles, Hollis McGuire, and Rita Toth in a co-advise setting, each of whom served her within their areas of expertise. Through their guidance, she learned what revenue model made sense for a tech platform, received help with managing costs, making wise investments, knowing when to bring in funding, and building a marketing strategy.
Claudia shares, “My advisors have given me very valuable guidance on where to focus my resources and efforts and how to be strategic and purposeful in growing my business. I am also very grateful for the depth and diversity of knowledge from the experts that have participated in co-advising sessions to assist me with my business.”
As she worked with NH SBDC, Claudia also hired a designer and software developer, and invited a school to be the first test site. “Every step of the way, it was a co-development effort, so my lead test site was Epping Middle and High School. They were early champions. They were early supporters,” says Claudia. The administrator vetted decisions and designs, approved processes and provided valuable insight.
The first module of Launch Now officially launched in January 2021 and today, Claudia is focused on building a sound marketing strategy and welcoming new customers to Launch Now. For assistance, Claudia recently joined NH SBDC’s FAME program, which connects SBDC clients with financial and marketing consultant partners for up to five hours at no cost. Through FAME, Claudia is now working with a marketing consultant on her marketing strategy for her social media and website.
In closing, Claudia shares,
“The best thing about working with the SBDC is the ability to be open, honest, and vulnerable about your successes and weaknesses in order to get the most benefit out of the relationship.”
In sharing the success Launch Now is having, Claudia is excited at the far-reaching impacts on students, schools, and community partners by bringing these stakeholders together on an interactive platform.