Student Entrepreneur Series: Will Lippolis
For the fifth and final installment of our Student Entrepreneur Series, we had the opportunity to sit down with Will Lippolis, former student entrepreneur and founder of ApprentiScope. Parts one, two, three, and four.
Why don’t you start off by introducing yourself!
I’m Will Lippolis, Founder & CEO of ApprentiScope. I graduated from UVM in 2019 with a BS in Computer Science – about a year after founding ApprentiScope – and I’m currently living just outside Boston, Massachusetts.
How did you become an entrepreneur?
I guess I’ve always had the tendency to be entrepreneurial – even as a child. I distinctly remember implementing a full menu (with the famous 10 second hotdog) at my lemonade stands to edge out my neighborhood friends! Since an early age, I’ve always wanted to build useful and interesting products that solve real world problems. In college however, I kind of fell into entrepreneurship after launching an app for UVM called Rhume. It centered around finding study spaces around campus and allowing students to rate how busy these spaces were so you didn’t have to walk around campus looking for a good place to get work done. Our team gained some attention around campus due to this and led people to approach us with different business ideas, ApprentiScope being one of them.
Where did the idea for ApprentiScope come from?
It came from a conversation I had with my academic advisor! He had been working for a company in the greater Burlington area that specialized in developing apprenticeship programs for large enterprise companies to supplement their legacy talent pipelines. They couldn’t find workers to do the high skilled tasks that needed to be done and out of that came a conversation about how apprenticeship programs involve a lot of compliance work and data collection but there wasn’t a really good out-of-the-box solution to figure that out. The best way I can describe it is…it’s like trying to run a business without payroll software – it’s just tough. All these companies that are running these sophisticated apprenticeship programs have all needed to build their own compliance workflows, which ends up being expensive & limiting for growth. So that’s where the idea came from and the Rhume team and I decided to pivot away from the app and start working on ApprentiScope.
How does ApprentiScope work?
We are a B2B software-as-a-service company that helps single employers, higher education, and government agencies scale their Registered Apprenticeship programs. We allow these organizations to manage everything from recruitment to compliance through one easy-to-use platform. Our customers include Siemens Energy, Raytheon, Aramark, Purdue University and many more.
Tell us more about that! Is there a difference between an internship and an apprenticeship?
We work with registered apprenticeships, which are government-regulated on-the-job training programs. They’re more structured than internships and they combine on-the-job training, coursework (also called related instruction), and a progressive wage schedule. This means that if you’re hitting your benchmarks the longer you work the higher your wages will get in the program! The cool thing about it is that if you qualify and get into the program, you’re a paid employee on day one. Basically, you’re getting paid to learn skills that will lead to higher wages – it’s really valuable, and the employers get subsidized labor and a great talent pipeline.
What did you find most useful about being a student entrepreneur?
The first one has to be the Catamount Innovation Fund. It’s basically an accelerator with funding opportunities. The partnership with VCET was also very helpful; I was always talking to David, who’s actually one of our board members. I was at the VCET office quite a bit at the beginning.
What were some of the challenges you faced?
The most difficult part was definitely trying to find a way to manage everything at the same time. Starting a company and balancing personal relationships as well as schoolwork was exhausting. I’d really have to say finding the time and energy to put into all aspects of my life in college was the most challenging part. I remember taking a class on software development and how to manage clients, and at the same time, we were onboarding Green Mountain Power as a client. It was a funny and unique experience living both experiences simultaneously.
What was the most exciting part of being a student entrepreneur?
The most exciting part by far was the process of building new products that solve important, real-world problems and by doing so, create tremendous value for customers. There’s simply nothing better.
What’s one thing you wish someone had told you about being a student entrepreneur?
At the time I was probably looking to David [Bradbury] for advice and mentorship and that’s the best thing you can do for yourself – find support. Other than that, finding the balance between maintaining your personal relationships and work is important, especially in college. I felt a lot of pressure to be profitable by senior year so that I could go forth into the world and scale up from there as we transitioned to working full time. But it was an insane expectation to have; to build an entire SaaS platform and be profitable within a year and a half working part-time is tough. It’s really about having a relentless focus on the customer, without that we would not be where we are today. Having a client that you like that is continuously giving you useful feedback is better than a client who pays and never says anything, especially in the early stages.
Speaking of mentors and resources, what were some that you found to be the most useful?
VCET was a huge help in terms of advising and guidance on where to go, who to contact, all that good stuff. LaunchVT was a great experience as well, we met some of our closest advisors there, Chris Fraser (VP of Sales @ OVR) and Jesse Stein (VP of Product/Marketing @ OVR). The Catamount Innovation Fund was so much fun and a great experience; it’s really cool to know that that’s integrated within the UVM community. A lot of entrepreneurship is highly focused or pushed within the business school and it would definitely be one thing I would change at UVM. Encouraging more collaboration between the Grossman School of Business and STEM majors, or anyone in tech has the potential to make so many interesting ideas a reality.
Lastly, do you have an ask for our community here at VCET?
So I have an ask and an announcement. We’ve spent the last 2 years ruthlessly iterating on every aspect of our business and product, which has allowed us to launch products in two new markets, expand our customer base to over 20 states, and reach profitability. Building off of all of this great momentum, we’re currently hiring Sales Development Representatives in VT, MA, and CO and preparing to open our Series Seed round in January 2022 to further accelerate growth as we scale nationally. So, if you know any sales rock stars who are looking to join an awesome company, please let them know about us! Besides that, the culture at VCET is incomparable, don’t ever change!
Interested in reaching out to Will? Find him on LinkedIn!
Published and edited by VCET Marketing Associate Nicole Mattos-Parodi.