Nashville's investor-backed YouScience startup charts paths to marketplace
By Milt Capps last updated 8:38 a.m. 7 May 2015
Updates: 7 May 2015: Earlier this week, YouScience filed a Form D citing raising $2.2MM vs a $5MM target. In a release today, YouScience said they're raised $3.9MM vs the $5MM, with investors those previously reported, plus development partner Ball Foundation. 2 June 2014: YouScience principals filed 30 May 2014 for planned $1MM raise, with $300K in-hand, SEC post here. Earlier: The YouScience Latitude platform formally launched 1 December 2013. VNC's indepth 2013 story follows. -Ed.
YOUSCIENCE, a Brentwood-based startup, promises to help students recognize their intrinsic purpose in life earlier than they might otherwise, and to use that self-awareness to compete for career opportunities via its planned online career marketplace.
The young company's drive toward its targeted markets is fueled by $8.5 million invested in the startup since it began gestating in 2010. It recently began seeking another $6 million, which is to be raised in two tranches, both of which are likely to be completed before the end of 2014, CEO Philip Hardin told VNC. The initial $2.5M tranche is underway now.
Its current investors and board members include Co-Founders Betsy Wills and Richard Patton, the latter CEO of Courage Capital Management; and, John Ingram, chairman of Ingram Industries and CEO of Ingram Content Group. Hardin serves as its chief financial officer, as well as CEO.
Other investment has come from about 10 other investors, including "a couple" of strategic investors, Hardin confirmed. Total capital-in thus far includes a $1,316,667 from the INCITE fund created by Gov. Bill Haslam's administration and administered by LaunchTN.
Its capital raises have been largely guided by Patton, said Hardin. YouScience does not rule-out the possibility of accepting future investment from institutional investors, Hardin said when asked about that option.
YouScience, currently pre-revenue with 26 full-timers, is not being run as a "lifestyle business" for the short-term benefit of shareholders, Hardin noted. Rather, its owners seek strong growth and have set no timeline for liquidity events.
The company's marketing of its Latitude brand offerings will first address a stratum of early-adopters -- students who are likely college-bound -- in order to generate the cash flow that startups seek early-on, said Hardin. It will subsequently target other demographic segments. Latitude is in beta testing, now, and the product line and its pricing are due for release in the next few weeks, with a go-live for the business in December.
It will build-out its field sales force in 2014, maintaining a consumer focus initially; then, in 2015, it will begin direct sales to U.S. employers, Hardin said. YouScience places high importance on understanding the workforce and talent needs of each market-region's employers, Hardin emphasized.
Farther down the road, international expansion is "absolutely on the radar," said the CEO. While it has had early discussions regarding developing international business, it places a premium on maintaining its current sharp focus on the U.S. marketplace, said Hardin.
YouScience offerings in the near term are designed to help students from about age 17 to age 27, enabling them to "pull forward" a model of themselves as successful workers in fields that correlate with their aptitude or "natural ability," Wills told VNC.
Student-clients of YouScience are provided a natural-abilities profile that helps them create an evidence-based path forward, toward careers in which they are most likely to be successful.
Greater knowledge of native aptitude and interests, and a better sense of likely career rewards, so the thinking goes, will help students and their parents or sponsors take effective action to prepare themselves to vie for attractive roles, in an increasingly competitive economy. YouScience does not, itself, measure or assess IQ, motivation or special learning needs, though it may use such inputs from other sources, as warranted, Wills and Hardin said.
The Chicago-area's Ball Foundation is a development partner with YouScience, Hardin confirmed. YouScience has licensed 12 of Ball's natural aptitude assessments under a long-term agreement, and the startup has "some strong market preferences as part of the relationship," he added. Ball's website notes that, among other things, the foundation's offerings help people improve and effectively use self-knowledge to manage their careers.
YouScience sprang in large measure from Wills' earlier academic interest in such things as "career discovery," an interest that grew during her subsequent experience working with Patton at Courage Capital. Wills holds a Master's in Education, earned in 2002 in the Human Resource Development program of Peabody College of Vanderbilt University.
Wills told VNC that after she learned about pioneering work by Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation (JORF, Boston and other cities), she realized that many resources then-available to students and families were "very lightweight" and relying on students' self-reporting, rather than on natural-abilities assessment techniques of the sort long employed by the JORF, U.S. military, Ball Foundation and others.
YouScience, which registered with the State of Tennessee in July as a Delaware company, has assembled a sizeable team.
Most of YouScience's marketing, including supporting its field sales reps, its search-engine optimization (SEO) and a wide array of related duties, are overseen by SVP and Chief Marketing Officer Brad Miller, a Penn State grad (2001) who has spent the past five years in education-sector marketing, including stints at Drexel University, Beyond.com and Career Education Corporation.
Creation of the "YouScience" brand is credited to Toby Cunningham, the company's chief product officer.
All PR is currently handled in-house by Julie Lilliston, a College of Wooster grad (1992) who has previously served with global firms Manning Selvage & Lee and Weber Shandwick, as well as with locals Lovell Communications and the former Katcher Communications (a predecessor to the former Katcher Vaughn & Bailey). As its PR needs grow nationally, an agency assignment may be considered, said Hardin.
Partners and vendors: YouScience banks with Bank of America; Waller Lansden provides its legal counsel; LBMC handles its taxes; and, StudioNow has produced its online videos. Outsourcer WSquared provides comptroller support. Local recruiter Beth Minter (dba Franklin-Belle) has executed on a series of assignments. And, an auditor assignment may be made by year-end, said Hardin.
Competitors? YouScience management believes it has no competitors that provide services "longitudinally," along the path from career direction to each worker's entrance into the marketplace, said Hardin. He acknowledged there are "end-point" competitors who address portions of the aptitude-career-employment pathway.
Hardin joined YouScience in November 2012, after serving 1995-2012 in executive roles with four interrelated companies: Emdeon Business Services, WebMD, Healtheon and ActaMed (acquired by WebMD). He earned a Stanford University MBA and a University of Georgia bachelor's in accounting.
YouScience is headquartered in Brentwood, at 555 Church Street, Suite 201 (37027). It is likely to outgrow that space by mid-2014, said Hardin.
Ingram Content Group occasionally makes strategic investments, but VNC has not determined whether or not ICG or affiliates, thereof, have invested in YouScience. VNC