08/30/2012 12:10 pm ET

ConnectEDU Founder Craig Powell Seeks To Level College Admissions Playing Field

Frustrated by the systemic inefficiencies faced by college-bound students and job-seekers, entrepreneur Craig Powell decided to step up and take action.

"The system is just so damn broken," Powell, 34, said. "At every turn you see how broken it is. If you have an ounce of democratization, you realize that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with."

The solution at which Powell arrived was ConnectEDU. ConnectEDU's original mission was to make it easier for all students to identify compatible colleges and universities -- and give them the tools to get there.

Growing up in Maryville, Mo., Powell's academic and extracurricular credentials were impressive in high school, where he was class president all four years and won the state wrestling championship twice. But he concedes that his admission in 1995 to Brown University, where he earned a degree in economics, was mostly luck. "I got to where I got to by pure chance," he explained, "not because there was a rational path to follow. The system is enormously antiquated."

After he graduated, the frustration of the admissions process still lingered with him, so he set out in 2002 to create a system that would even the odds for all players and increase the chances of students who were otherwise ill-equipped to face it. ConnectEDU also began helping colleges and universities identify potential applicants who were a good fit.

The new system worked so well that ConnectEDU has expanded into the professional world, and has been advising and connecting employers and potential employees. ConnectEDU has grown into a multifaceted company that provides services to clients ranging from 7th graders and their parents to the states of Hawaii and Texas. ConnectEDU now hosts close to 20 million registered learners, over 4,000 educational institutions and 130,000 employers on its network spanning 14 countries. It currently employs 130 people, having added 50 new positions in the last three years alone, and it hosts a two-year entrepreneurship program for graduates with less than three years of relevant work experience.

Powell said he believes the breadth of ConnectEDU's products and services is part of what helps the company stand apart. "We've done everything wrong you're supposed to do as a start-up," he said. "We don't do one thing well. We can't explain what we do in 45 seconds. We impact a lot of things." But this is deliberate, he said, and Powell put ConnectEDU in the company of other innovative online companies when describing its mission. "We're trying to change a paradigm. Trying to describe how Facebook or LinkedIn worked before they existed would be tough."

Powell said he believes that finding the right people with whom to work and creating a strong company culture are key to his business model. "You want to build an organization bigger than you," Powell explained. "What we accomplish is what the team behind us is able to do. The job is hiring really good people and then getting out of the way."

The key to being a successful entrepreneur, according to Powell, is that you have to be flexible and adapt. "You have to shirk the notion of pride of ownership and be willing to abandon ideas as fervently as you developed them," Powell said. He also credited numerous mentors, teachers and coaches who have helped motivate and inspire him, and included their role in his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: "Find good mentors. Understand how to quantify things. Find a market opportunity that you can be passionate about."

This profile is part of a series featuring innovative small-business owners taking part in The Huffington Post's Entrepreneurship Expo in Tampa and Charlotte, in conjunction with the 2012 political conventions and HuffPost's "Opportunity: What Is Working" initiative.



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