Lead(H)er: Sabrina Manville, Co-Founder of Edmit
It may have only been a matter of time before Sabrina Manville’s career led her to higher education. Her parents were both university administrators and professors throughout their own careers, and Manville grew up in a home that deeply valued the college experience.
For many families, though, making the dream of sending their children to college a reality is more expensive than they realize. Like preparing for retirement and buying a house, paying for college can be one of the biggest financial investments that a family makes.
“When you're making the decision about where to go to school, it's hard to get really good, data-driven, objective information about what will be the best use of that money,” Manville said. “I saw that families were becoming more and more price sensitive, and as the cost of college has gone up, people are more hesitant about taking out loans. They really want to understand where they’re going to get the best bang for their buck.”
In an effort to make navigating this investment easier, Manville and Nick Ducoff co-founded Edmit, a digital advising software about college finance. The system provides personalized guidance based on applicants’ savings and financial aid, scholarship options, salary and career outcomes, and the amount of debt with which they’ll likely graduate for each school selected. In addition to the software on the website, which is available in free and paid versions that offer different levels of personalization and depth of information, users can schedule a phone call with an in-house college advisor for more support.
The undertaking is a natural next step for Manville, who has worked in both startups and higher education in some capacity since she began her career at Ithaka, where she worked in a consulting group that helped universities, academic publishers, and related nonprofits make the switch to online business models.
An interest in social entrepreneurship took Manville to a small forestry company in Kenya. There, she managed the organization’s finance department and began her commitment to startups.
“That was my first foray into having a more hands-on, more tactical role in a company that was young and small and growing,” Manville said. “From there, I realized I wanted to go back to school to get my MBA and formalize what I knew about business and strategy while getting some more tools in my toolkit.”
Her experience at Stanford’s MBA program helped her reconnect with higher education, this time focusing on innovation and efficacy. In her role at Pearson shortly after graduating, Manville wrestled with the question of how to measure educational outcomes while helping the company collect data and research the effects of its products.
This trend continued at Southern New Hampshire University, which has long been at the forefront of alternative education for adults. Manville worked in the school’s College for America department, a startup-style organization that allowed her to continue exploring the connections between finance, education, and innovation while leading its marketing and strategy initiatives.
“My decision to jump over and do a startup was the culmination of having worked in more innovative and entrepreneurial settings and really liking that, but also finding a vision and a partner that shared my values and wanted to bring more data into the hands of students and families so that they can make better decisions,” Manville said.
Now, she and her co-founder Nick Ducoff are working to spread the word about Edmit, which closed a $2.3 million seed round in August 2018. Manville says that the company understands the issues it’s trying to solve and its customers, providing it with a strong foundation for the next step in its development.
“We think we have our vehicle pointed in the right direction and we're pressing the gas,” Manville said.
As for her own forward steps, Manville says that she’s working to deepen her expertise in finance and education to make a bigger impact for families and students who are considering higher education.
“Seeing that what I do is actually changing behavior for the better, or changing institutions for the better – that’s important to me.”
Rapid Fire Questions
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love to be outside. Our family has a goal of spending a little bit of time outside every weekend, whether it's just a hike or a day trip that could get us into nature. So that's a big part of every weekend. I'm also a runner when I find the time.
How do you typically manage your stress?
The time right after work, before my daughter goes to bed, is sacred time. It's family time. I leave work promptly every day so that I can pick her up and have dinner with my husband and with her. I think protecting those time slots to be with the people you love is a really powerful coping mechanism because if you have to get back to work after dinner, you're in a better place. It is amazing to know that at the end of every workday, there's a bit of special time with family.
How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
I try to stick to one cup of coffee in the morning and then keep it decaf (or water!) the rest of the day.
What’s one of your favorite spots in the Boston area?
I love the coast. We often go up to New Hampshire, southern Maine, or the North Shore just to be on the water and eat seafood and explore. That's one of the things I love about Boston - you can get out of the city quickly and be in some beautiful places.
What would you say is one of your greatest accomplishments?
I'm proud of the fact that I've been able to make lots of mini transformations in my career. I started out in the non-profit world. I was able to go to a great program and get my MBA. I've had some corporate jobs and worked in a university setting, and now I'm working on a startup. I've developed high adaptability and have been able to teach myself a lot and learn a lot along the way.
Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
I actually have always wanted to be a part of a founding team and start my own company. I don't know that I knew what kind of company it was going to be or who I would want to work with, and I certainly couldn't anticipate this exact model that we’re working on. But, I did know that I wanted to work in a small, entrepreneurial company that had a social impact and to be a leader there. So yes, something along these lines.
What is your advice for recent college graduates?
It's not important to know what you're going to be when you grow up. Most people don't ever really figure that out right away. What's important is to choose roles where you're going to be learning a lot from people that can take an interest in your professional and personal development. I think what I see I think a lot of people try to do is forecast where they will be in 10 years and try to draw a straight line to how they get there, but if I look at where I've come from, the story writes itself only after the fact. There's bits and pieces of every single job that I've had that have informed what I'm doing now, but there's no way I could have predicted them at the time. I think it's important to take your job choices one step at a time and think about, what are you going to learn and from who? When you're done with that and you're not learning, then you can think about where you want to be next.
I think the other thing that goes along with that is that you never know what or who will be helpful to you down the line, or vice versa, because your network is a two-way street!. You might think that you're done with a company and you're just going to get out of it, but it's really important to foster good relationships and to make sure that you're maintaining those relationships even after you leave. I think it's almost impossible to have a job experience where nothing good comes out of it. There's always something you're going to learn or someone you're going to meet that enriches your life and your path in the future.