2023 Most Disruptive Business School Startups: UpDonor, USC (Marshall)


University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business

Industry: Software and IT, Nonprofit

Founding Student Name(s): Matthew Grant

Brief Description of Solution: UpDonor provides affordable fundraising, accounting, donor management, and operational software for nonprofits and community organizations.

Funding Dollars: < $2000

What led you to launch this venture? UpDonor started as a passion project for nonprofits in the local area. As someone who has spent a significant amount of time around nonprofits both as a volunteer and as a technical consultant, I’ve seen firsthand just how many organizations are using outdated, inefficient, non-compliant tech solutions. I decided to reach out to these nonprofits to see if they would use a platform like UpDonor if it were made affordable and accessible. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and UpDonor has been growing ever since, continuing to work with nonprofits to both expand and refine our tools.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? While we have not publicly launched, the platform is fully developed and has been tested by potential end users and third parties. Market research and beta testing partners include the LA Regional Food Bank, United Way of Orange County, The Fulfillment Fund (Los Angeles branch), One More Child, and the Jester and Pharley Phund.

How has your business-related major helped you further this startup venture? One differentiating factor that often separates UpDonor from other student ventures is the fact that I’m a solo founder with technical experience. As a Computer Science and Business Administration major, I was able to utilize knowledge from both fields to further improve UpDonor from a technical and operation perspective. This includes, but is not limited to, drawing from my marketing course to draft primitive go-to-market strategies, utilizing accounting principles learned in-class, and incorporating organizational processes into UpDonor’s design from day 1 to better understand our customers and improve our own internal operations.

Which business class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? I took Organizational Behavior and Leadership as a freshman, a course that covers several frameworks, principles, and tactics for managing oneself and others within an organization. The idea for UpDonor developed while I was taking the course, so I was able to draw ideas as I planned the structure of UpDonor. To this day, much of UpDonor’s structure and internal processes was informed by the knowledge I gained from Organizational Behavior and Leadership.

What business professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Lars Perner teaches Marketing Fundamentals at USC, a course I took around the same time I started conducting market research for UpDonor. While many students dislike the course because of its broad approach to marketing concepts, I found the course extremely engaging and useful as it pertained to developing marketing strategies for my new startup. Perner taught the course in a fun, exciting way and connected every concept back to a real-world situation, which made it easy for me to understand and adopt. Perner is also a board member for a local nonprofit, so he was able to provided valuable feedback for UpDonor’s marketing strategy.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? My advisor and mentor Nicholas Kurlas has been paramount to the growth of UpDonor, providing guidance every step of the way from ideation. Kurlas is an experienced entrepreneur himself, who now works as a Senior Director of Production Innovation at Visa. His mentorship helped me value the potential of every idea while following a disciplined approach. This ensured that those ideas were validated and tested before I committed any resources to their growth. Kurlas’ guidance and encouragement continues to be a driving factor in both UpDonor’s success and my personal career growth as a student, entrepreneur, and leader.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? UpDonor is and always has been about helping small nonprofits and community organizations drive larger impact on a smaller budget. I would love to see UpDonor grow and reach as many of these impact-driven organizations as possible, helping them accomplish their missions without having to worry about ever-increasing technology costs.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? USC offers a plethora of resources for entrepreneurial-minded students, ranging from simple pitch deck review sessions to micro seed funding opportunities. In addition, there are several clubs on campus that bring together entrepreneurs and connect them with the necessary resources to succeed. UpDonor is a proud member of TroyLabs, a student-run startup accelerator that runs every semester for a small group of selected ventures. As a solo founder, the consulting, investor introductions, and general resources provided by the program have been invaluable and have played a significant role in getting UpDonor prepared for its public launch.


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