(Image credit: classconnect.com)
Eric Simons, 20, had all the attributes of a passionate entrepreneur: hungry, visionary, resourceful and willing to do whatever it took to get his startup off the ground, including squatting at AOL's headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.
But after surviving on office catering leftovers and snacks for two months, the entrepreneur has now put his startup in motion with $500,000 from investors.
Simons moved to Silicon Valley from Illinois last year when he was 19 years old. Accepted into the inaugural class of the Silicon Valley startup incubator, Imagine K12, he decided to pursue the dream of his startup instead of college.
He and his friends were given $20,000 for ClassConnect, which allows teachers to create and share lesson plans with students and other teachers. After the four month program ended, his friends quit to attend college and the money ran out too. But Simons, with a working AOL badge, continued coming to the office, as first reported by CNET.
Simons showered in AOL's gym, slept on company couches, and ate snacks and leftovers from the frequent catering that served the employees and other entrepreneurs working at the office. Because AOL allows other entrepreneurs and programs to work in its office, Simons was able to stay through October and November last year.
On the hunt for investors, he said moving back to Chicago would have meant shutting down ClassConnect.
"What we're working on is extremely important and will have an important impact on educational system," he said. "I couldn't bring myself to pack up, which is how I got clever and figured out how I could stay out there."
His parents and family knew he was squatting, but almost everyone he knew applauded his dedication, including his parents.
"They knew of it. It killed them to see me living on couches and eating scraps but at the end of the day they were pretty proud of me for doing that," Simons said.
ClassConnect's $500,000 seed investment closing today from Ulu Ventures may be giving Simons' parents another reason to be proud. Simons said he received the first of the investment, $50,000, two weeks ago. The first thing Simons did with the money was rent a three bedroom home in Palo Alto where he and his two partners are working. He plans to rent out the master bedroom for extra cash.
Ulu did not immediately return a request for comment.
Brett Kopf, 25, and his brother, David, were part of Simons' Imagine K12 class, and housed Eric on their couch when he wasn't living at AOL. The Kopf brothers launched Remind101, a service which helps teachers text homework reminders and other messages to students and parents, eight months ago.
"He's the most energetic kid I know," Brett said of Simons. "For a [then] 19-year old it's just very impressive, for his tenacity, to do that."
David Speiser, spokesman for AOL, said he the company does not encourage employees or intruders to sleep in its office, but he does applaud the spirit of Simons' dedication.
"We did not know that Eric was sleeping in the offices and that's obviously not something we can or want to encourage. We have to maintain a professional workplace," Speiser said. "At the same time, as a company we're working very hard to encourage employees to work very hard and create an environment to promote Silicon Valley dream of entrepreneurship and dedication to an idea."
"It was always our intention to facilitate entrepreneurialism in the Palo Alto office - we just didn't expect it to work so well," David Temkin, SVP of mail and mobile for AOL, said in a statement.
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