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Connor Ford (BA'20)
Connor Ford (BA'20)

A Young Scheller College Entrepreneur’s Spirit Has Caught On in the Business World

If you ask most entrepreneurs why they created their product or service, they would say they saw a need in the marketplace. Georgia Tech Scheller College student, Connor Ford (BA’20), is a shining example of recognizing a market need and launching a highly sought-after product.

A software programmer since age 13, Conner developed the Spirit app as part of a high school project. The original goal of the app was to make it easier for teachers to record student activities without using spreadsheets or other paper documents. The Spirit app also incentivized students to participate in extracurricular activities, connect with their peers, and display school spirit. A big plus for Spirit was its ability to provide students with real-time information on the number of points they were earning for the end of the school year prizes. 

After his high school started using the Spirit app, word spread to other schools utilizing similar point systems. “After I graduated,” said Ford, “a few schools in the area expressed interest in using the app as well, so I decided to make a company out of it.” Currently, Spirit is used in over 80 schools in the U.S.

Fast forward a few years and the Spirit app had caught the attention of the corporate world. When a Chicago fund management firm saw the app as a means of increasing employee engagement, they reached out to him. “With our pivot from education to corporate employee engagement, the number of customers will become our new benchmark,” shared Ford. “We’re currently in two companies, and working towards our benchmark of five.”

Ford is focusing his energy on the corporate market because as he relates, “They have more cash to spend, embrace innovation, and place a far higher value on engagement.” He adds, “While we’re keeping our educational market, we’re investing our resources into developing the corporate market and becoming the go-to solution for organizations looking to engage and retain their workplace talent.”

According to Ford, the corporate market is primed for the app. Research shows only three out of ten employees say their employer has recognized them in any given week. However, companies who doubled that number to six out of ten saw a 24% improvement in the quality of employee work, a 27% reduction in absenteeism, and a 10% reduction in shrinkage.

According to Ford, the corporate market is primed for the app. Research shows only three out of ten employees say their employer has recognized them in any given week. However, companies who doubled that number to six out of ten saw a 24% improvement in the quality of employee work, a 27% reduction in absenteeism, and a 10% reduction in shrinkage.

Ford feels strongly that Spirit can improve corporate/employee relations when management begins implementing the app for employee recognition and employees start using it for workplace engagement. Engagement examples could range from an employee who wishes to earn points by attending a lunch-and-learn to improve their skills, to taking a new intern to lunch, to recording their attendance at a yoga class. And co-workers can award a badge to other co-workers in a fun way, say, as “best runner” in a company’s charity benefit race. Because the app focuses on creating close-knit communities, managers can use Spirit to track employee engagement within their teams and recognize employees publically through social platforms such as Slack, Teams, and even digital signage giving employees instant recognition and positive reinforcement. A corporate bonus is the app's easy implementation. Spirit offers 15,000 app integrations, including Asana, Dropbox and CRMs such as Salesforce.

Ford is relentless in his pursuit of Spirit’s success and has capitalized on multiple opportunities to collaborate with other entrepreneurs. One of those collaborations is with the Atlanta Tech Village (ATV) in Buckhead, ranked the 4th largest startup hub in the U.S. Ford’s company was the second cohort in ATV’s “It Takes a Village” pre-accelerator program, ATV’s diversity and inclusion initiative to bring together a diverse population of women and people of color within the tech start-up arena. And Ford is raising his first round of funding – an impressive $500k.

While attending the “It Takes a Village” program, Ford met Amrit Dhir, the head of Google startups. They both shared an interest in Atlanta's Inman Park historic homes, where Ford currently lives. Dhir had recently visited the Atlanta History Center and mentioned his particular interest in a home he had seen in a Center photograph. The home turned out to be Ford’s and he invited Dhir to dinner along with other start-up founders. Little did he know that Dhir was already planning an Atlanta popup, “Google for Startups.” During the dinner, the entrepreneurs shared their struggles, which provided Dhir insight into topics the “Google for Startups” event later addressed. 

For Ford, the innovative Google event produced options and markets he had not previously considered, including the HR and B2B segments. “The event included a workshop, which highlighted Google’s hiring practices and what it sees as best practices in hiring and creating a culture-rich environment. This was incredibly helpful for me to see what it looks like to grow small teams while acting like a big team,” he recounts.

Ford was drawn to Georgia Tech Scheller College for its brand recognition, strong business undergraduate program, and its central location in Atlanta's Tech Square, a world-renowned ecosystem recognized as a leading hub for innovation, entrepreneurship, business incubators, and venture capitalists. As a fourth-year student, Ford is on track to graduate in May, although with the current growth of his company into different markets, he may opt to delay his graduation date.

A lot of the time, people only see the fun side, since ‘startups are cool’. They don’t see the all-nighters of work or the times you question every decision you’ve ever made. Startup life is tough. However, it can also be very rewarding if you’re willing to put in the work.

Ford says its tough juggling school while investing time and energy into growing his company. "It’s not easy being an entrepreneur", he relates. “A lot of the time, people only see the fun side, since ‘startups are cool’. They don’t see the all-nighters of work or the times you question every decision you’ve ever made. Startup life is tough. However, it can also be very rewarding if you’re willing to put in the work. There are tons of resources out there to get started and the people in the startup ecosystem are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They’re almost always willing to help.”

His knowledge of programming along with a strong support system at home and the ATV has guided his success, as well as his collaboration with other like-minded entrepreneurs. "In five years, I’d like to be in a similar position as the ATV team --- able to be a bit of a serial entrepreneur, investing in and helping out different young start-ups. That’s the dream." Ford relates.

With the Atlanta Tech Village just around the corner and Tech Square’s innovation hub surrounding Scheller College of Business, Ford has plenty of inspiration. That's the Spirit. 

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