A million dollar student project
Greg Skloot’s event management software startup Attendware, which prints nametags in under a second and collects key attendance metrics, solves a simple yet persistent problem.
“It seems like a small problem, but it’s such a pain for people who organize events,” said Skloot, who graduated from Northeastern in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
In less than a year, the new venture has taken off. Last week, Attendware announced it had received a $1 million investment from .406 Ventures, a Boston-based venture capital firm named in honor of Red Sox star Ted Williams’ 1941 batting average.
“Attendware’s offering represents the next generation of event and constituent tracking technology," said Maria Cirino, managing director at .406 Ventures. "There is an enormous market for this technology and we continue to be blown away by the reception it receives in nearly every market we enter. We’re excited both about the innovative product and the ambitious entrepreneurs behind it.”
Skloot came up with the idea for Attendware as president of Northeastern’s fast-growing Entrepreneurs Club. Each week the group drew hundreds of members to its meetings and events, but Skloot found it difficult to draw conclusions from the vast array of email lists and sign-in sheets documenting the club’s membership.
“I would look at the sea of people and think to myself, ‘I don’t know who these people are. Are they freshmen or are they seniors? Are they business majors? Are they here for the first time or are they people who keep coming back?” Skoot recalled. “At the time, the only way to figure all that out was to go through all our documents, a process that was really long and messy.”
Skloot set off to solve that problem in his free time, building the initial prototype while still a student. He designed a web interface that allowed guests to easily sign into an event, collecting and cataloging the data in the process. After graduation, he started taking steps to turn that prototype into a business.
Last October, the venture accelerator MassChallenge used his program—then still a side project—for its 1,400-guest awards dinner at the Massachusetts Convention Center. MassChallenge asked for two things: access to the same login and data collection system Skloot had developed for the E-Club and the functionality to print nametags at check-in.
“They asked us for a contract, and that’s really the moment when the whole thing turned into a real business,” Skloot said. “I didn’t start off saying I was CEO of a company. I started slow, treating it as a project first and let it grow organically from there.”
In January, Northeastern hired Attendware to provide event support services for departments including Alumni Relations, which had been looking for a new system to keep track of exactly who attended its events. Since then, Attendware has steadily increased its client list, working primarily with universities and nonprofit organizations.
“Northeastern was our first big customer and gave us a lot of great feedback about what it needed from our service and how we could better serve the university,” Skloot said. “This was a really great case study of Northeastern doing good for its alumni.”
The new influx in funding from .406 Ventures—where Skloot had worked as a fellow during his second year at Northeastern—will enable Attendware to hire new staff and invest in technologies that will help the venture grow. Attendware recently added a feature that sends event organizers a text message when a VIP guest arrives and hopes to increase mobile support by moving its login platform from laptops to tablets and smartphones.
“What’s cool about this project and what has really excited people is that everyone has a use for it,” Skloot said. “Everyone puts on events in one way or another, and everyone could use a tool that makes the process a bit easier.”