Startup co-founder Seun Suberu ’23 arrived on campus with big ambitions for the future of his CollegePlus app. Fast forward three years, and Suberu has honed new business skills while earning more than $85,000 in funding through multiple SMU competitions designed to jump-start student-led innovation.
Suberu – his first name is pronounced like “Sean” – continues to expand and refine his app while pursuing a degree in computer science and a minor in statistical science. His own experiences inspired CollegePlus. It guides prospective students through a series of questions to help them land on schools that are good matches for their interests and needs.
A strong computer science program, proximity to his family, scholarships and a thriving entrepreneurial community made SMU a clear choice for Suberu. Like many of his peers, however, he struggled during his college search before finding the right fit.
“I didn’t know what was feasible, given my credentials, what was affordable, if I could get a scholarship and so on,” says Suberu, who graduated from Mesquite High School. “I had more questions than answers.”
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Suberu answered a series of probing questions about his business plan posed by a panel of seasoned entrepreneurs and investors – all with MBAs from SMU’s Cox School of Business – during the high-stakes SMU Launch Competition March 25. It is the newest iteration of an annual contest hosted by the Cox Graduate Entrepreneurship Club for the past 22 years. And with mentoring provided by the club, Suberu polished his presentation and perfected his pitch.
As he sees it, what sets CollegePlus apart is its personal approach and accessibility. The app is “used by students directly. It puts all the resources in their hands. It gives students control of their future.” While anyone can use it, Suberu says the app was designed for those who lack exposure to the college admission process, often first-generation and low-income students. Helping them find the right college can put them on the path to a bigger future, he says.
“I believe that education is the best means to improve your quality of life,” he says. “It leads to internships and jobs. That’s how you begin to build generational wealth.”
So far, there have been more than 1,000 downloads of the free app from Apple’s App Store and Google Play, with about 300 visits per month to the CollegePlus website.
At the end of the launch competition, Suberu walked away with the first-place award of $73,825, which included the $20,000 Linda and Mitch Hart Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award.
That blockbuster prize comes on the heels of his $5,000 grant from SMU’s Big iDeas business plan competition, part of SMU’s Engaged Learning Program. The annual contest gives enterprising students the opportunity to pitch their startups and receive seed money to take them to the next level. This is the third year he has won funding. Last year he received $6,000, and in 2019, he earned $1,000.
“Seun’s poise, hunger to achieve his vision and desire to learn made him an easy choice as winner for Big iDeas,” says Kyle Waldrep ’16, founder and CEO of Dottid, who served as one of this year’s judges. The SMU alum founded his digital process management solution for the commercial real estate space in 2018 in Dallas and recently announced plans for a national rollout.
Both Engaged Learning and the Cox Entrepreneurship Club have been incredibly instrumental in allowing me to explore the business side of myself. Outside of funding, they have provided me with opportunities to learn different aspects of business. I literally would not be at this point without the opportunities SMU has provided.
— Seun Suberu ’23
CollegePlus started as Suberu’s capstone project at the Google Computer Summer Science Institute in July 2019. The all-expenses-paid computer science boot camp at the tech giant’s headquarters in Seattle brought the recent high school graduate together with students from across the country. Suberu’s three-member team discussed their own challenges and landed on the idea that he describes as “an app by high school students for high school students.”
The CollegePlus team (from left) Seun Suberu ’23, Sparrow Caldwell ’23, Jasmine Patrick ’23 and Matthew Merrit ’23.
While his original collaborators are no longer part of the project, he’s put together a committed SMU team. Lending their expertise to CollegePlus’ mounting success are:
- Jasmine Patrick ’23, a junior majoring in marketing and film, who serves as creative director. She figures out visual marketing and social media strategies and administers the CollegePlus social media accounts.
- Sparrow Caldwell ’23, a junior majoring in environmental science and political science with a minor in Chinese, who serves as media outreach manager. She focuses on communications and strategic alliances to drive business growth.
- Matthew Merritt ʼ23, a junior music major, who serves as social outreach and brand representative. Merritt works with high schools and school districts to spread the word about CollegePlus.
Suberu has written over 97% of CollegePlus’ code and serves as CEO, head marketer and financial manager. He changed the entire architecture of the original web application that had been built in outdated tech. He created a mobile version released for Android and Apple iOS in August 2020. A new YouTube channel will complement CollegePlus on Instagram and TikTok. Plans are in the works for a podcast, too.
Suberu isn’t all business. He’s involved in a wide range of campus activities, including the National Society of Black Engineers, for which he serves as the SMU chapter president. He’s also a peer mentor with Rotunda Scholars, a program that promotes academic achievement and leadership among first-year students. In addition, he’s a representative to the Black Unity Forum, a consortium of students, faculty, staff and alumni who came together to develop an action plan in summer 2020 aimed at helping SMU become a more welcoming and inclusive environment for Black students, faculty and staff. He’s also a member of the Association of Black Students.
This summer, he’ll complete a second stint with Lyft as a software engineer intern.
In the meantime, he’s focusing on more big plans for CollegePlus.
“I’m using this time to continue planning and networking with investors,” he says. “We plan to accumulate as much funding as we can in this pre-seed round. Our aim is to roll out more services and features by the end of the year.”