Doug Mitchell is not shy about discussing the difficulties he and his twin brother Bill had when they were in high school in the mid-1990s. Both accomplished wrestlers who were just as dedicated to their academics as their sports careers, the two still found themselves flailing when it came time to figure out what to do when they graduated from St. Charles West High School. Without a robust family support structure at home or a clear way to explore career choices from teachers, coaches and counselors, the Mitchell brothers were left to make important decisions on their own – and without much information to guide them. That’s why they vowed to make sure no other child would ever again have to feel their way through on their own.
“We had a rough patch in high school and lived on our own when we graduated,” Doug says. “There are a lot of kids out there like me and Bill – kids who might not have the means to go to college. We are really trying to reach and impact the kids that are in the bottom twenty percent who are left behind, because they want out. They just don’t know how to do it.”
That lifeline Doug and Bill are providing students is their St. Charles-based startup, ScholarPath. A career exploration platform that both arms students with information on different life paths and connects employers with prospective talent, ScholarPath is helping to empower students by providing them access to a wide array of career-related information, ranging from college programs and scholarships to salary expectations for the trades and military service opportunities. For the Mitchells, the goal of ScholarPath is to help students be proactive about their post-high school paths through an interactive tool that they can use to explore a variety of opportunities that might pique their interest, and even let them work toward achieving their goals while still in school so they are poised for success after graduation.
When the Mitchell brothers were in high school in the 1990s, they yearned for such direction. Even without it, though, they both went on to achieve in different ways; Bill attended Lindenwood University and became a business and technical teacher while Doug went directly into the workforce as an entrepreneur. Both continued to coach wrestling at the elite level, taking their teams to state championships and made important connections with school administrators in the process, including Lindenwood’s then Dean of Admissions and wrestling coach Dr. Joe Parisi, who became a mentor to the brothers.
Around 2013, Doug had a lightbulb moment that would eventually become ScholarPath, even though he was not quite sure what to do with the idea at the time. He knew there was a need for students to get real-world career information in one centralized space, and he also realized that schools and employers could benefit from getting their opportunities in front of kids in terms of recruitment. However, it wasn’t until Bill returned home to the St. Louis area in 2017 from teaching in Las Vegas that the idea began to take shape.
“I pitched the idea to him for an app, telling him we should build an ecosystem for students to research opportunities from inside of school,” Doug says. “So, we married his career in education and my career in entrepreneurship and came up with ScholarPath.”
– Doug Mitchell
The Mitchell brothers poured all of their energy into developing the platform, sketching out the concept and writing a business plan while connecting with a friend from within the area wrestling community who had a background in both education and IT. After developing a beta version of ScholarPath, they decided that the best way to see if their product would work would be to take it to the people who’d be using it: the students. That’s when they linked up with longtime friend and St. Charles High School Assistant Principal Jeff Thorne.
“They pitched the idea to me, saying that this is something St. Charles could use and the kids could be a part of, and they explained the process of what they were trying to do,” Thorne says. “They laid it out to me when it was just a thought – not a developed tool – and they asked if I could help them and give them ideas about how it would work in a school. It’s one thing to take something that is thought and theory, but another to apply it into a school situation. So that’s how it started here; to see how it would actually work.”
The Mitchells began their partnership with St. Charles High School’s personal finance classes in 2019, gauging students’ interest in the platform, their needs and what they hoped to get out of such technology. The students’ input was invaluable and led the Mitchells and their chief technology officer to tweak the platform based on what they learned, which has helped the platform get to where it is today.
“They were the first ones to click through and tell us their thoughts, how it looked and how it interacted with them,” Doug says. “It’s a cool story to say that a hometown school allowed a hometown company to come in and build this in real time. A lot of credit should be given to St. Charles High School to allow us in and give its students the ability to be involved in something that could really revolutionize workforce development.”
While the crisis of 2020 threw a temporary wrench in their ability to work directly with the students, the Mitchells used that time to hone their technology, close on a multi-million dollar funding round and acquire private and public partners as part of a multi-state expansion that has grown to include 350 businesses within the region and eight different states who are looking to bring ScholarPath into their classrooms. The program was even recognized by St. Louis Inno, the technology-focused arm of the St. Louis Business Journal, as a 2023 Startup to Watch. Thorne understands the excitement around ScholarPath, having seen firsthand how this can have real world impact on his students’ lives.
“In our personal finance classes, our kids utilize ScholarPath to explore different careers; the platform allows them to connect with career pathways within our school and shows them what classes they might take if they are interested in a particular path,” Thorne says. “There are a lot of other cool things, too, like a function that works with our football coach so he can communicate with players, but also allows him to see live updated grades to make sure they are doing their work. There are so many aspects to this platform.”
Thorne is also particularly excited about ScholarPath because it shows students that there are a number of different ways to achieve after graduation, not just college. Like the Mitchell brothers, he believes this has been missing from much of the discussion when students look to the future.
“They are trying to show kids that there isn’t just college, but there are other options out there,” Thorne says. “Coming from a community where kids don’t always have that eye on trying to go to college, this gives them the idea that they may have other options. A lot of kids don’t want to go to college, or they feel like they need to go to college and have to take on all that debt because they want to make good money, but this tool helps them go through and explore different options that may not lead to going to college, or if it does, this helps them find money that will will ease that burden.
“I speak highly of what this is able to do because the end goal is to provide kids with the best opportunity to see what is out there and connect them to it. It’s like one-stop shopping for them.”
ScholarPath may be in its infancy; the technology has only been live since 2022, so Doug acknowledges there is not yet enough data available to measure the impact it has had on student success. However, he is confident that the platform has the ability to have a positive impact on students’ lives by letting them make more informed career choices while also helping the business community with hiring and retaining talent – a win-win arrangement that will make ScholarPath a vital career and workforce development tool with national appeal.
“We are working with eight different states and empowering these school systems and legislatures to see the need for workforce development for high school students and for kids to understand what they want to do when they graduate,” Doug says. “We want them to find something they are interested in and pursue it. If they do, we feel that the unemployment rate will go down if they are doing what they like and not what they are pushed into doing.
“This is empowering them, which is the key to success.”