Graduation is a momentous time for any college student. It represents a new chapter in life; a time to explore the unfamiliar and start on a path towards a career. Digital advancements have made platforms like LinkedIn popular for connecting students and professionals, but the barriers of entry can make finding the right mentors seem overwhelming. Wisr in Cleveland, Ohio, has built a destination for both students and professionals to make meaningful connections.
“Connecting students with a network that can help them start their career has never been a higher priority on campuses. But most current university networks operate across several platforms and require their users to work hard to find the right connections—if they can find them at all,” said Kate Volzer, co-founder and CEO of Wisr. “We addressed these issues with a knowledge-sharing community. We bring everyone in under one umbrella and offer mentorship and communication tools for students and alumni to connect and talk about really anything.”
Wisr offers features like LinkedIn integration for easy profile building, communication tools like messaging and chat options, and intuitive academic and career advising matches. Students can be matched with the right mentors and build a personal Board of Advisors, explore careers and navigate their college experience. Wisr is planning to roll out a new feature they’re calling Communicate, which will allow the university to subdivide their network even further into groups like the entrepreneurship program, varsity athletics or acapella groups.
Volzer, a native of the Akron/Canton area, completed her undergraduate education and MBA at the University of Chicago. While there, she worked with students as a career services counselor, helping them optimize their social media profiles for employers and seek out alumni to build their professional network. She became well-acquainted with the unique challenges that each facet of the community—students, alumni and the university officials—faced in trying to build, maintain and leverage their own networks.
“Students want to meet alumni to build their network, get mentorship and improve their positions for internships and jobs. They also want different support at later stages of their careers. Alumni want to make connections with talented graduates of their alma mater,” said Volzer. “The university wants a unified space to organize events, share information and plan fundraisers. We cut out features that bogged these networks down and added tools to create a closed, dynamic environment where everyone benefits.”
After completing her MBA and armed with the insights she gathered in career services, Volzer attended a startup expo at JumpStart, a northeast Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier. There, she met John Knific, then-CEO of DecisionDesk in Lakewood, a technology helping universities with their enrollment processes. Volzer served as VP of Business Development at DecisionDesk for about two years before she approached Knific with the idea that’d been brewing since her time at the University of Chicago.
After adding CTO Kris Ciccarello, the three co-founders began building their platform and were helped by investment and mentorship from JumpStart and North Coast Angel Fund.
“If I hadn’t attended that event at JumpStart, I probably wouldn’t have known about all the great things happening in entrepreneurship in Cleveland. I don’t think I would have worked at a startup. I probably would have taken a safer, more traditional route,” said Volzer. “But JumpStart helped me connect with John and through him, I met Kris and we built a company together. The resources and the people in the startup network opened so many doors for me and my team, and I see this is going on all throughout Ohio.”