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University of Washington campus with cherry blossoms in bloom. (Creative Commons / Joe Wolf)

For Allison Rosenberg, the problem was clear.

“Young people have absolutely no idea what they want to do for a living,” she said, “and nobody is helping them.”

Rosenberg, who spent roughly two decades in leadership roles at universities or working on issues in higher education, thought there had to be a better way. Students and their families were investing thousands on college educations with no clear idea how that related to a future career.

“It dawned on me that if Google can figure out what ads to place before the consumer, shouldn’t we be able to figure out what career options to place before the college applicant or the college student that makes the most sense for them?” she asked.

Allison Rosenberg, founder and CEO of Posed2. (Posed2 Photo)

The existing tools had shortcomings. Rosenberg, who holds a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Harvard, knew that questionnaires that relied on self-reporting about one’s interests — tests like the popular Myers–Briggs personality test — can provide less-than-reliable results. A company called Naviance provides software to thousands of high schools for career and college planning, but Rosenberg’s research suggested that kids found it boring and didn’t like using it.

So in 2015 she launched Posed2, a Seattle-based company helping students figure out, “Who are you ‘posed to be?”

The startup uses multiple casual games known as “platformers” in the gaming sector to reveal interests and strengths. The games are meant to discover a player’s social and emotional characteristics. They test one’s cognitive style: Is your thinking analytical, innovative and creative, spatial or verbal? Is your approach to problem solving intuitive, or more collaborative and interactive?

The program takes that information and matches it against an existing database that links traits and jobs in order to highlight six potential career fits. The Posed2 platform provides information about the careers, such as what the work is like on a daily basis, salaries, and employment projections. It then suggests which majors are often held by people in the selected fields. And finally, using data from College Scorecard, a government tool created during the Obama administration, students can find schools with strong programs in the areas of interest.

“If students know where they want to go after they graduate, they will be better positioned to decide where to apply,” Rosenberg said, “and more focused once they matriculate.”

The startup is working on partnerships with several organizations helping underserved high school students seeking a path to college. These students are more likely to have less support from school counselors, and fewer family members and others in their network to guide them in the daunting search for higher ed.

Posed2 has four employees, including Senior Technology Officer Shahab Mirghorbani and Vice President of Engineering Saqib Rokadia, who has experience at multiple Seattle startups. Rosenberg is CEO.

The platform is currently in beta testing, and Rosenberg expects that it will be available for students next year. Interested users can sign up now to be notified of the release. The product will be free for students, with plans to eventually charge for premium services. Posed2 will primarily earn money by selling information about potential applicants to universities. Currently the College Board — the organization that administers SATs — is the largest provider of applicant names or “qualified leads” to universities trying to woo students.

The startup received a $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in January. The money comes from the Small Business Innovation and Research program, and the company is eligible to apply for a second-phase grant in February of nearly $1 million.

We caught up with Rosenberg for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Posed2 uses games to help reveal a student’s interests and strengths. (Posed2 screen shot)

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Posed2 matches kids and colleges based on goodness of fit, using games and artificial intelligence. Think of us as eHarmony for college match. Not only are we finding the schools that would be the best partner for a student, we’re also finding the institutions that want to recruit that student, too.

Inspiration hit us when: Inspiration hit when I finally recognized the greatest drive and gratification I have at work is creating things that solve important problems. I have created several, multi-million-dollar initiatives, but always on behalf of my employer. Having worked for large organizations for decades, I finally screwed up the courage to go out on my own and to launch my next venture as a startup founder. It has been the hardest but the most gratifying, authentic thing I’ve done yet.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We are a bootstrapped business, with a healthy dose of help from the NSF (see our “smartest move” response below).

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: I once made a fine meal of risotto prepared with expensive truffles for a friend and his two teenage boys. It was a flop. Disappointed as I was, I learned an important lesson: if I want to please my audience, I must hew to what they like and not what appeals to me.

According to the MacArthur Foundation, 97 percent of young people play games — and it’s not just boys. There is little difference in the percentage between boys and girls, regardless racial and ethnic groups or family income. Our secret sauce is serving up our solution to the great question of college- and career-match in a flavor that appeals to our target audience: video games!

The smartest move we’ve made so far: Without a doubt, our smartest move was to apply for a Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) grant from the NSF. The SBIR program, sometimes referred to as “America’s seed fund,” helps startups transform their ideas into marketable products and services. The beauty of an SBIR grant is the founders retain full control of the vision, strategy and any IP created, without relinquishing any equity in exchange for funding.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Spreading resources too thinly across temporary and part-time contributors. At a time and in a town where technical talent is in such demand, anyone not sufficiently invested in the long game is likely to eventually be recruited away.

Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you want in your corner? Let me answer that question with another. That is, what kind of gladiator voluntarily enters a coliseum in which 99 percent of all contenders are expected to die, armed with only 2.8 percent of all the resources in the world — swords and shields, powerful patrons, great trainers and the like — available to win the fight?

Only a female founder would take those odds.

Given these numbers and as a female founder myself, my pick is the most powerful female executive I can name: Oprah Winfrey. Not only are her reach and influence unparalleled, her grace and generosity belie an indestructible spirit, bottomless resilience and unbreakable confidence in her own ability to prevail. I often resort to Oprah aphorisms and, apropos for Posed2, I have enshrined her admonition on our site: “Align your personality with your purpose, and no one can touch you.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: Food! We enjoy time out of the office, and indulging in a great meal is everyone’s delight.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: First, raw talent; second, proven experience; third, unquestionable integrity; and finally, a simpatico spirit. Numbers one through three all are necessary, yet none alone is enough. The fourth quality, not always possible to find under pressure, is icing on the cake.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Consolidate your resources and focus them on a small number of highly talented people whom you trust completely. So much time and energy can be diverted when the people fit isn’t right.

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