When James Li (MSB ’13) began his freshman year at Georgetown, the traditional paths of finance and international banking were on the horizon. “It was sort of a struggle to see a path that was different from that,” he said. “I didn’t really have that many thoughts about entrepreneurship.”
Four years later, Li and two other Georgetown students are now in the limelight for an application they created to assist nonprofits share their stories and engage with donors. This “interactive, story-based email communications platform,” called Encore, was voted last Thursday as D.C.’s “Hottest Start-Up” in a showcase of 25 selected D.C. startups, organized by a tech media company Tech Cocktail.
Li describes Encore as a way to help nonprofits in D.C. focus on their relationships with donors. The web app allows grassroots organizations to quickly and easily tell supporters about the latest initiatives. Encore will also provide nonprofits with the analytics and information on donor activity and behavior.
They were among the youngest founders out of the 25 startups featured at the event. Last Friday, Li and the other co-founders, CFO Michael Hauser (MSB ’13), and Tammy Cho (MSB ’16) of Encore went all the way to San Fransisco, California, for the one of the largest nonprofit conferences in the nation, to meet and publicize their newly launched web app to an audience of almost 900 nonprofits. Also on their staff is Elle Kang (SFS ’15).
“By and far, we were the most popular booth there and people really enjoyed the new energy and innovation we were bringing,” Li said. “Most of the feedback was really positive.”
Hauser attributes Encore’s success to nonprofts’ knowledge gap in social media tools. “After meeting with over fifty DC and LA-area nonprofits, we found that many are spending weeks on communications materials; they know there’s an opportunity to leverage the web and social media, but don’t know where to start,” he said in an Encore press release.
Earlier this semester, the Voice ran an article about the struggles Li and other students face with startups at Georgetown. There is a growing tech startup community at Georgetown but only a small amount of support to sustain the initiatives.
When they started coming up with the idea freshman year, Li mentioned that one of the biggest struggles was that none of the four Encore members had experience with code. To overcome this, they hired developers over the summer to create and execute their concept.
As of last Wednesday, Encore has 12 groups testing the app. By May, the four hope to have 100 nonprofits on board. Li’s goal is to work full time after college developing and expanding the startup.
Photo courtesy of James Li