Student Entrepreneurs Launch Gig Economy Payment App

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jul 11, 2019

Entrepreneurship Center helps grow student business

When Caleb Gilbert worked as a part-time tutor, a canceled session meant losing out on valuable time and money. Today, Gilbert’s new business venture – called Esgro – aims to help service providers avoid similar frustrations.

Gilbert, who is a junior in the electrical engineering program, is preparing a beta test of his unique payment platform in August. He and his team have been working alongside the Robin and Doug Shore Entrepreneurship Center to develop the project, and are now pitching to investors. They have also launched a crowdfunding campaign.

Caleb Gilbert Esgro Pitch

Caleb Gilbert pitching Esgro at the INC Pitch Competition, sponsored by the Shore Entrepreneurship Center and Ignite HQ

Designed for workers in the emerging gig economy, Esgro helps independent service providers guarantee they receive payment for services. When a client uses Esgro to hire a contractor for any service, from babysitting and landscaping to freelance writing and media services, both parties agree on a price, and the client pays the full amount into an Esgro-managed account. Esgro releases payment once the provider completes the task. Both parties also agree on a payment amount in cases of cancellation.

Esgro homescreen
The application helps avoid disputes between service providers and clients, eliminating the need for split payments (where clients pay half their bill in advance) and costly trips to small claims court. 

“This is a problem that hundreds of industries face when dealing with services,” Gilbert says. “There has been no great solution for transacting for services. There are plenty of archaic methods we’ve used in the past to mitigate risks, but they don’t really solve everything.”

Gilbert came up with Esgro in April 2018 while working part time as a physics and calculus tutor for high school students. Even though he enjoyed the work, frequent cancellations put a strain on his budget. He began designing a system that would help small service providers secure payments, while also giving clients control over the quality of the work.

He immediately took the idea to his friend Payton Johnson, a computer science graduate from Georgia Tech, and the two began working on the technology. Realizing they had a unique idea on their hands, they brought in Themiya Chandraratna, also a Georgia Tech computer science graduate, and reached out to the Coles College of Business Entrepreneurship Center for guidance on launching Esgro.

Gilbert and his team learned many valuable lessons from the EC, including that it takes more than raising money to start a business.

“When you first start out, all you think about is funding,” he says. “You say ‘I have this great idea. Now I need to get money to make it.’ That’s not at all how it works. Over the last 14 months, I’ve luckily had the opportunity to learn a lot from [the EC].”

With the EC’s help, the Esgro team refined the product, developed a business plan, built their brand, and researched the application’s viability in the marketplace. In addition, EC Executive Director Greg Quinet and Dr. Mark Hiatt, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship, were able to open doors for Gilbert once the company was ready to seek financial backing.

“This involved introducing Caleb to angel investors, venture capital firms, and industry experts that would have a direct interest in what Caleb’s company is developing,” says Hiatt, who is now on Esgro’s advisory board. “Greg and I used our business contacts to make these introductions in the most expedient means possible.”

A big win for Esgro came earlier this year when the company was accepted into the Charlotte, N.C.-based Queen City Fintech, the largest financial technology business accelerator in the Southeast. Esgro was one of only eight companies this year to make it in out of 400 that applied. Gilbert says completing the accelerator has enhanced Esgro’s reputation, opening up more opportunities for investment.

With the product moving into its beta test, and with 50 companies signing letters of intent to use Esgro, Gilbert and his team are preparing for their public launch. Their current goal is to raise $500,000 to build out an engineering and support staff.

The company recently launched a crowdfunding campaign where they are giving anyone the opportunity to invest in Esgro for as little as $20. Gilbert says it is important that a company servicing independent service providers allow those providers to have a stake in it.

“This business was started by students with students in mind,” he says. “It’s students from their schools building something. We wanted to give everyone the ability to jump onboard and share in the purpose and the vision of this company.”

Learn more about the Esgro crowdfunding campaign.

Esgro is just one of the many student-run businesses nurtured by the EC. According to Hiatt, the Center, as well as Kennesaw State University’s innovative entrepreneurship degree program, have contributed to a culture of entrepreneurship across the University.

“The active outreach that the EC provides to the university and local community, combined with the up-to-date courses taught by former entrepreneurs, and the many students that come to us with an entrepreneurial drive, all creates an environment that strongly encourages the development of the entrepreneurial mindset and skillset,” he says.

- Patrick Harbin

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