Sheri Smith, founder of Indigo Education Co. Courtesy Indigo.

Niwot woman-led company competes for VC prize

NIWOT — A Niwot-based startup that helps to match personal attributes with careers will be among five women-led companies nationwide to compete May 19 for a quarter of a million dollars in investments. The competition, a one-day pitch contest, will result in the funding, plus access to other investors.

Hosting the pitch event will be ECMC Foundation and Chloe Capital. Indigo Education Co., founded by Sheri Smith, will be the only Colorado company in the hunt for the investment prize.

The five finalists were selected based on their ideas in education innovation, college success, career readiness and workforce transformation. The event is called “Invest in Women: Future of Work & Education.”

The event is significant for two major reasons. First, it helps to combat the inequity in venture-capital funding of women-led businesses. As reported in Fortune magazine, only 2.2% of venture-capital funding in 2018 went to women-led companies, and one male-led company, Juul Labs Inc., took in more venture-capital money — $12.8 billion — than all venture-capital raised by the 482 female-led companies that received funding that year.

Second, the competition’s emphasis on career readiness and success comes at a time when 30 million Americans are unemployed.

Sheri Smith, founder of Indigo Education Co., speaks to parents and students at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette. Courtesy Indigo.

“I think that a lot of the traditional jobs [lost during the pandemic] aren’t coming back,” Smith told BizWest. “I think a lot of the unemployed will still be out of work a year from now,” she said.

Indigo Education Co., founded in 2013, “uncovers the intrinsic genius of the individual and then helps find the education pathway,” Smith said. The company helps determine not only what an individual might be good at, but also how the person is wired, which may be an indicator of success, she said.

Indigo Education has a three-pronged approach. First, its system assesses behaviors and aptitudes, then uses an artificial-intelligence platform to generate information that the student can act upon, and finally it maps the potential career and helps students plan how to navigate the path.

The company has contractual relationships with about 200 high schools and 25 colleges in 17 states. Its 10 employees have conducted about 100,000 assessments of individuals and have trained about 5,000 educators, she said.

A self-described “farm girl from Michigan,” Smith said she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life upon graduation from high school. She graduated from American University with a bachelors in international studies and earned a masters from Georgetown University in communication. Her work prior to founding Indigo was with a global women’s right’s organization, in personal development, coaching and consulting for companies.

“My first love is working with middle school and high school students, especially the disadvantaged. They grew up believing that they don’t have a place in the world,” she said.

As a result of that concern, Indigo Education has both for-profit and nonprofit divisions. The nonprofit is called Indigo Impact Initiative, a 501(c)3.

“We don’t want cost to be a barrier to this,” she said. If a constituency is unable to pay for the company’s services, the nonprofit arm finds a way to make it available.

Indigo was designed to shift away from standardization in education and to capture “a multi-dimensional view of the individual,” she said.

Smith will pitch the company’s newest version, called the Indigo Pathways App, which provides a personalized pathway to careers.

If successful on Tuesday in receiving the $250,000 investment, Indigo will use the money for marketing in order to grow the company to the next level.

“We’re hoping to double our revenue and employee base in the next year, but it’s hard to sell in this environment” when schools are closed, she said. The four others competing for the prize are:

  • Caroline Bickers, co-founder and partnership development lead, Beagle Learning, Boston.

  • Jamee Herbert, founder and CEO, BridgeCare, San Jose, California.

  • Claudi Recchi, co-founder and CEO, EdSights, New York.

  • Amanda DoAmaral, founder and CEO, Fiveable, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.