When Sarah Schupp’s mother visited the University of Colorado at Boulder and asked her daughter to make dinner plans, the 18-year-old freshman did what many students in a new place would do: she dragged her guest to a nearby pizza joint that specialized in $3 slices delivered on greasy paper plates. Twice shy, when both of Schupp’s parents came to visit and asked for accommodation suggestions, she remained noncommittal. “‘I don’t know,’” Schupp recalls saying. “‘I don’t stay in hotels.’”
Over time, Schupp became more savvy. But many of her peers’ families continued to struggle with navigating between the parental nest and campus life. Schupp, who had firsthand experience with university administrators through her work as class president, knew that schools wanted to ease that transition and to have a great relationship with parents, but that a lack of funds often got in the way.
Wanting to help, and seeing a solid business opportunity, Schupp turned University Parent Media, her senior business school project, into a $1.8 million business that serves as a CliffsNotes to college life. The company works with nearly 200 institutions nationwide to produce free handbooks, newsletters, and digital content for parents. Participating schools fill out templates that include information about little-known resources on campus, and work with UPM content experts to figure out what information should be included. University Parent prints the handbooks with money from advertising revenue, and distributes the guides for schools to use in recruitment efforts, admissions blasts, and orientation programs.
Schupp’s initial success at her alma mater convinced her to expand her market and, upon graduating, she reached out to parents’ offices at universities around the country. She signed three new clients by the end of her company’s first year. But UPM really gained traction after Schupp attended the Administrators Promoting Parent Involvement Conference in Boston, where she signed up eight new clients.
UPM now sends out 100,000 mobile-friendly newsletters each month, and produces half a million handbooks every year. The company is launching an online products division this fall, which will offer “college-proof,” UPM- manufactured laundry bags and care packages.
Schupp thinks back to starting the business with little more than a bare-bones parent guide and a GoDaddy website, and is shocked that anyone took her seriously. “I think it was all about the idea,” she reasons. “I didn’t want the first message a school sent out to be ‘Hey, your kid got kicked out of school,’ or ‘Would you like to make a donation?’ University Parent supports all of its audiences in whatever capacity they need, and the results have been really exciting and invigorating.”