CatalistX Brings Innovation to Higher EducationBy Michael Caballero
CatalistX is an innovation platform, personalized connection engine, and alumni relationship manager for universities. So far, it opened innovation and entrepreneurship portals at UC Berkeley and UCLA to connect students, alumni, and faculty with startups, mentors, exclusive events, and more. I sat down with the founder, Jeremy Hammer, to learn more about his vision to connect university communities.
With more than 40% of college graduates working in positions directly after college that don’t require a degree, higher education needs a better way of connecting student communities with better employment opportunities. There needs to be an easier way to navigate college communities for the 20 million students attending American colleges and universities. Many schools lack the ability to connect their students, faculty, and alumni with the proper opportunities and resources. CatalistX, founded by Jeremy Hammer, a Berkeley Haas School of Business alumni, is addressing this problem by vastly improving connectivity in higher education.
“CatalistX is an “innovation platform for universities…it’s a white-labeled solution that leverages university resources, people, and opportunities more efficiently”
– Jeremy Hammer, Founder & CEO
Recently, it opened two portals at Berkeley and UCLA, BearX and BruinX, that allow members of those universities to search, connect, and collaborate with each other on the platform. Currently, there are over 3,000 users on the platform, even though Hammer’s main focus is not marketing to increase user count. Hammer’s current goal is to add value for the early adopters to “make sure we are doing everything right, before we start to broadcast [the platform] to everyone.”
Background and Team
The idea to create CatalistX stemmed from Hammer’s experience in co-founding Bluem, which was focused on positively impacting sleep health, through the Fung Fellowship at UC Berkeley. When he experienced difficulty in acquiring a technical member for the Bluem team, Hammer realized a glaring problem of inter-university connection. He chose to pursue a way to increase connectivity beginning with student-to-student connections.
Originally a side project, Hammer spent eight months researching the problems caused by a lack of university connectivity and how the best universities tackled these problems. After realizing the scale of disconnectedness at most universities, Hammer founded CatalistX in early 2017 to create a solution.
Since then, CatalistX progressed through LAUNCH, a UC startup accelerator, and participated in the Skydeck Hotdesk program, an incubation track for Berkeley startups. One large step along this process was the launch of a completely redesigned and intuitive website this past August.
So far, they have raised money from family and friends, along with angel investors, and are currently raising more. Additional funding was raised by winning several startup business grants.
Hammer currently works on the company with one other full-time developer, Jaime Lossada. In total, CatalistX has a team of over 15 interns and consultants. This team, mainly composed of students and alumni, is especially well-equipped to work for CatalistX because almost all of them were recruited through the platform. Because the team is composed of portal users, they have valuable user experience to help create the best product.
Separating CatalistX From the Competition
Though there are not many similar companies, CatalistX’s competitors include LinkedIn and alumni relationship management companies. Nevertheless, Hammer believes that while other companies “may be doing bits and pieces of what we want to be doing,” CatalistX brings a unique value to its users. Instead of creating just a software as a service model, Hammer also thinks that the platform should be peer to peer.
Additionally, Hammer believes that their use of artificial intelligence will be able to separate CatalistX even further from the competition.
“AI will decrease the amount of time on the platform requires to match people with opportunities, resources, and other users, so the platform’s value is available to the users as soon as possible. Users won’t have to search through anything or spend time weeding through [the platform]”
– Jeremy Hammer, Founder
Though AI will never perfectly be able to match users with the correct opportunities, it should be increasingly more efficient and effective and thus will be greatly benefit users. Because CatalistX has individual dashboards for all users, Hammer plans on using AI and recommender systems to match users to their most relevant and current opportunities and resources. By establishing feedback loops and tracking job applicants, applications, and messages, Hammer hopes to instantly provide users with the platform’s value.
Hammer sees scaling up CatalistX’s size by opening more portals for additional universities as his biggest challenge. Their current target universities are those within the UC system or other universities located in California. Ultimately, their target market is the top 60 U.S. universities. Including students, alumni, and faculty, this totals to approximately 5 million users. The overall potential market for CatalistX is the 10,000+ universities worldwide and their respective communities.
The next major step for CatalistX and Hammer is getting paying customers onto the platform. Hammer believes the challenge is not finding those customers, but figuring out how to properly charge them. He does not want to “distract or deter people from using [the platform] because we are charging for the wrong things.” His main focus is making sure that the cost of the platform is not disproportionate to its value.
Hammer believes their first paying customers will be university organizations like Berkeley’s College of Engineering or Skydeck. Depending on when they add paying customers, CatalistX plans to transition from improving the experience of the platform for early users to growing the scale of their user base. In the long term, Hammer believes their revenue model will stem from the platform providing data analytics for organizations, a management solution for accelerators, and a platform that helps startups hire, find advisors and events, and get funding.
As portals like BearX and BruinX provide a unique value to their users, it will be a challenge to figure out how they develop and implement their business model for paying customers. But as of now, the platform is completely free to use for all parties. In the next year, CatalistX plans on perfecting their revenue model, adding multiple features to the platform, and expanding to other universities to pursue their goal of more efficiently utilizing university resources and opportunities.