Startup spotlight:

Concept: A college savings registry that makes it easy for friends and family to give directly to a child’s college savings plan in lieu of less meaningful gifts, such as trinkets — think of it as the “Kickstarter for college savings.”

Story: The rising cost of college is one of the biggest financial issues plaguing American families today, and student debt has surpassed credit card debt. GradSave was inspired after Marcos Cordero realized there was no easy way to give directly to his goddaughter’s college savings plan, and so he co-founded the company with Irma Grondin, his goddaughter’s mom, to make college savings easy. GradSave aims to be the de-facto standard for responsible gifts at birthday, milestones, baby showers and other holidays.

Launched: early 2012

Management team: Cordero, formerly a management consultant for Fortune 500 clients, is CEO. His team includes Sergio Mendoza, CTO, Erik Nestorovic, who manages development, and Eddie Pradel, who manages customer relations.

Financing: $1.2 million from private angels and a venture capital investment from Idea Fund Partners in North Carolina.

Milestones: In December, GradSave acquired the No. 1 college savings information site, In January, a Living Social deal went viral with 10,000-plus sales.

Biggest startup challenge: “Getting engagement and building a thriving community with our customers — we have proven we can acquire customers, now we need to get them loving GradSave,” said Cordero.

Next step: Increase gift dollars per customer — the goal is to help families reach their first $1,000 of college savings via GradSave. One way is through its $1,000 Birthday Challenge, in which GradSave adds $100 when $1,000 is raised.

Advice for next steps: “The best way for GradSave to build a community of loyal customers is to provide clear value to the customer and to make it easy for them to recognize that value. We want our customers singing our praises to their friends and family,” said Lister Delgado, of Idea Fund Partners who was initially attracted to GradSave by the strength of its CEO and the company’s leadership position in a fast-growing market. Delgado suggested GradSave should continue to educate and provide tools for customers to make better saving and investing decisions and also communicate its value proposition clearly.

Nancy Dahlberg

Startup Spotlight highlights companies started within the past five years that have hit key milestones. To have your company considered for inclusion, email

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