August 20, 2010

Q & A with social entrepreneur, Alex Bernadotte, founder of Beyond 12 (formerly CollegeSUCCESS)

We always love doing work for nonprofits and we recently finished developing a nonprofit brand from the ground up. What was formerly CollegeSUCCESS will be Beyond12 in a few weeks once their new Web site and brand goes live. We sat down with founder and CEO Alex Bernadotte to ask her some questions about her company’s brand, her background, and Beyond12. Beyond12 is true social entrepreneurship–it is a national nonprofit organization looking to increase the number of first generation, underrepresented and low-income students who graduate from colleges and universities. If you have any other questions for Alex, please comment here.

Why did you decide to hire Corey as your branding firm?

I had worked with Corey previously on several projects and was very impressed and satisfied with their work. Since Beyond 12 is my “baby” so to speak, I wanted to work with a firm that I already had trust and confidence in, so naturally I turned to Corey first.

What was the most important message you were looking to convey with the redesign of your Web site?

Beyond 12 is a new organization so Corey developed our brand from scratch – our name, our logo, our tagline, our brochure and other collateral, and our website. As a nonprofit startup, it was really important for us to drive home the point that we are a mission-driven “experienced” and “exciting” brand. Because we work with several stakeholders (high school and college administrators, college students, policymakers, etc.) we needed a brand and website that appeals to a very diverse audience. This is never an easy task, but Corey was able to help us prioritize and synthesize our message.

What did you like most about Corey’s thoughtful process?

I love the fact that Corey listened to us. What a novelty?! The team spent a lot of time with us initially to get a sense of who we are and to understand our mission and vision. They asked a lot of difficult questions, provided expert guidance but, in the end, they let us drive the process. As result, we ended up with a brand and materials that are truly reflective of who we are and what our organization aspires to be.

Why did you decide to start Beyond12?

Many social entrepreneurs talk about having a “moment of obligation” that leads them to start their organizations. My “moment of obligation” began when I was a freshman at Dartmouth. Because I was the first person in my family to attend college, my transition from high school to college was difficult. My focus for 17 years in high school had been on getting in to college, but then I was not prepared for the journey after admission. But through a combination of hard work and peer support, I succeeded in also becoming the first in my family to graduate from college. My difficulties at Dartmouth planted the seed for my personal and professional commitment to ensure that all students have access to a college education and are given the tools to successfully navigate their college careers. Four years ago, during a meeting with a mentee, my moment of obligation crystallized. This young lady had just begun her sophomore year and was struggling to understand how and why she would succeed when so many of her friends had already dropped out. I was confident that I could help her realize her dream to graduate from college, but what about all her friends and other students like her who needed my help? I decided then that the field needed an organization to address these college retention challenges on a systemic level and so began Beyond12.

How did you get into the education industry?

I started working in education immediately after college and I’ve worked in this field in various capacities and for a variety of organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit, ever since.

What was the most challenging part of starting a company?

The most challenging part of starting a company is managing the hundreds of competing priorities. On any given day, my “to do” list consists of about 100+ items that are all critical and there are, unfortunately, only 24 hours in a day. So, learning not to sweat the small stuff has been a real challenge, as has operating on 3 hours of sleep a night! However…no matter how challenging of a day I am having, I never forget that it is a privilege to wake up every day and actually call what I am doing “work.”

What advice does Beyond12 give to students?

We work with our students to help them have the most successful college experience possible and to ensure that they are effective both in and out of the classroom. Ultimately, our goal is to make sure that our students graduate from college with a degree that provides them with meaningful economic and personal prospects – one that allows them to provide for their families, contribute to society, and break the cycle of poverty for the next generation. Some words that you’ll probably hear us say a lot to our students:

· College is not a destination but a steppingstone” – we remind them that the goal is to earn a degree that they can translate into a rewarding future. We encourage them to build a road map for their college journey and beyond

· “College should not be a solitary experience” – we encourage our students to use all of the resources on their campuses, to visit their professors and advisors during office hours and, most importantly, to ask for help.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is getting up every day and doing something that I absolutely LOVE and am so passionate about. Not many people have the opportunity to combine their personal and professional passions so I consider myself very lucky.

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