EduFunder Technologies helps kids stay busy and post-secondary students afford their education
Nichola Lytle was preparing for a graphic design exhibit at Selkirk College in Nelson when she noticed that many of her students hadn’t submitted a piece for the year-end show. Investigating further, she was shocked to learn that one of the main issues was that the students were running out of money—for printing costs for the show, for rent and even for food.
Inspired to find a solution to offset the expensive fees and debt that students are forced to prioritize, Lytle—a digital arts instructor, graphic artist and owner of Pinkdog Designs—came up with EduFunder, a social platform through which students can source donations to support their educational goals.
“In contrast to fundraising for an emergency need using a crowdfunding platform like GoFundMe, EduFunder is all about investing in the future of bright students who will contribute to our society,” she says, referring to the practice of funding a venture by obtaining small amounts of money from a large number of people, usually through the internet.
“It’s a different take on the way we fund education.”
Students sign up online, creating EduFunder campaigns by building their profiles with details about their post-secondary ambitions and post-graduation plans. They then use their social networks to raise money to help them achieve specific education goals—both large and small—and are awarded funds in real time. The platform allows students to broadcast their aspirations and ask for financial help from family, friends, acquaintances or even potential employers.
“Often, students are left in these silos to fend for themselves when it comes to paying for school,” says Lytle. “But I think there’s a way we can rethink educational funding; if we invest as a society, then it’s a community investment in our future.”
A drive to help others
“My grandfather was a Rotarian,” Lytle explains, speaking about the non-profit organization that spreads goodwill through humanitarian action around the world. “He started two Rotaries and his main focus in life was helping students afford education. That’s always stuck with me.”
After conceiving the EduFunder idea in 2017, Lytle began building the online platform in 2018 under her startup, EduFunder Technologies. Her vision for the system came to life during prototyping in 2019, when she began to roll out the first iteration of EduFunder
A loan from the Trust’s Impact Investment Fund gave EduFunder Technologies the boost it needed to start realizing its original concept. This program supports businesses and social enterprises through loans where the project will benefit communities in an impactful way, for example by creating employment.
By demonstrating it already had this support from the Trust, Lytle’s business was able to access triple that amount in federal and provincial funding, wage subsidies and grants. Lytle used the majority of this funding to hire local talent and students; this resulted in a core team that worked closely with Kootenay-based industry specialists to develop EduFunder’s first iteration, which was tested by Selkirk College students and later tweaked by students from the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). Students from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business also got involved by drafting a strategic marketing plan. The business used another portion of the funding to purchase equipment and software.
“The initial support from the Trust made a huge difference in my capacity to hire local talent, leverage funding and make big decisions,” she says.
Additional help came when Lytle received travel grants from the Trust to attend three #BCTECHSummits in Vancouver. These gave her further opportunity to build industry relationships and network with investors, entrepreneurs and post-secondary institutions. “I made several key connections with industry experts on the coast that continue to mentor our team today,” she says.
Now, Lytle is working on a second component of EduFunder, called the Equalizer, that will help students find and obtain student scholarships online in real time.
From education to activities
Lytle has also kept employees, contractors, students and others busy developing another online resource: Things My Kids Do. Through a website and app, this platform helps parents find activities and amenities for their kids, including playgrounds, swimming pools, camps and festivals. Parents are notified when children’s interests are matched with customized recommendations loaded by recreation facilitators in BC; they can also create and save options in “playlists.”
In the testing phase, the platform has been rapidly gaining attention. It won third place at BCIT’s Computer Information Technology expo and was shortlisted for the New Ventures BC Competition. Lytle says, “We’re one step closer to making it easier for parents to find kids activities wherever they are, wherever they go.”
Success despite setbacks
Between these two projects—EduFunder and Things My Kids Do—Lytle’s business has been adding to the economic well-being of the region. By far, the most unexpected surprise in either project has been COVID-19. For example, when in-person recreation temporarily shut down, Lytle pivoted Things My Kids Do to include online activities. However, COVID-19 also opened up a wider talent pool that Lytle benefited from while hiring, and the two projects provided opportunities for local professionals during economically uncertain times.
Both projects pushed forward, and now Lytle’s thrilled she’s been able to introduce two technologies designed to improve the lives of youth, families and communities. She also finds the Basin an incredibly accessible place to establish a technology business and build a support network.
“This is all one ecosystem that’s interconnected, and there’s so much space for ideas; there’s just so much potential, support and nurturing here,” she says. “I call it the rural advantage: we’re able to access industry expertise, resources and mentorships locally. It makes a huge difference.”