Black-led Austin startup picked for prestigious new Google program

When Melvin Hines Jr. began his freshman year in Albany, Georgia, there were about 250 new freshmen. But by the time their senior year ended, he and only 67 of his classmates had earned diplomas. This corresponds to a completion rate of a little more than 25 percent.

That eye-opening experience spurred Hines to found an educational technology startup called Upswing International Inc., which provides a technology-based platform designed to help non-traditional and online college students succeed. Now tech giant Google wants to help Austin-based Upswing succeed.

On July 31, Google named Upswing its first class of 12 in the Google for Startups Accelerator: Black Founders program. During the three-month virtual program, Upswing and 11 other Schwarz-led startups – selected from a pool of around 300 applicants – will acquire technical and business development skills from Google specialists and industry experts. In June, Google announced a $ 175 million project to help black business owners, startup founders, job seekers, and software developers.

“Melvin Hines Jr. and his team at Upswing are doing an incredibly exciting and important job reaching, relating, and retaining non-traditional students. Through our longstanding collaboration with the entrepreneurial center Capital Factory, Google for Startups has long known Austin as the ideal city for innovative companies, ”said Jason Scott, head of the Google developer ecosystem in the USA, in a press release.

Upswing says more than 30,000 online and nontraditional students have prevented them from dropping out. This was achieved through a platform offering:

  • Access to online buses around the clock.

  • A chatbot that helps students.

  • Online connections to various college services.

By participating in the Google initiative, Upswing can, according to Hines, improve its chatbot, among other things. “Really, it’s just a question of us learning more about how we can develop better tools and products for non-traditional students,” he says.

Upswing has worked with dozen of colleges and universities in the United States, including the Houston Community College, Lone Star College in Houston, Blinn College in Brenham, and the University of Houston-Victoria. Upswing donors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, United Way, Impact America Fund, Pro Rata, Rethink Education, the Lumina Foundation, and the Strada Education Network.

Hines says that aside from his tenure in high school, his parents’ path to education influenced his desire for recovery. His mother Brenda and father Melvin Sr. were both non-traditional students. His mother and father earned a bachelor’s degree as a child, and his mother earned a master’s degree.

Hines took a more traditional route to college education. With his high school diploma in hand, Hines enrolled at the University of Georgia, where he received a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2006. He then earned a law degree and an MBA from Duke University. He then worked for a consulting firm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and taught law at North Carolina Central University in Durham.

Today, of course, he’s focused on leading Upswing as Co-Founder and CEO. The company was founded in 2013. Upswing started out as an online tutoring company in North Carolina that worked with local community colleges. After graduating from the startup accelerator Tech Wildcatters in Dallas in 2014, Upswing moved to Austin.

Upswing now has 20 full-time employees and around 300 online coaches. It is one of the few US startups run by black entrepreneurs. Programs like Google’s Startup Accelerator help companies like Upswing serve audiences that many entrepreneurs say may be overlooked by many entrepreneurs.

“At Upswing, half of our students are black or brown. And about a third of our users are student parents or work their way through school, ”says Hines.

“We didn’t want to develop Upswing for black or brown students. We wanted to address a specific need that spoke to me growing up. It just so happens that half of the 800,000 students who now use our system are minorities, ”he adds. “I think that’s what happens when people from different perspectives can finally develop products that reflect their background.”

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