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Three students on a mission to rethink student loan debt with their educational start-up

April 26, 2024

Lilli Frank
GETTING STARTED: David Ma '24, Athis Osathapan '24 and Adi Pall-Pareek '24 discuss their entrepreneurial pursuit that aims to help students increase access to college education through income-share agreeements.

While other senior students might be working on job applications and going through numerous interviews, three seniors found themselves scouring for seed funding, working on elevator pitches and contacting lawyers to create a registered company. After graduating, David Ma ’24, Athis Osathapan ’24 and Adi Pall-Pareek ’24 will work on their own start-up. Their idea is to create a marketplace for income share agreements—an alternative to student loans.

Pall-Pareek initially came up with this idea over the summer and shared it with his friends, expecting them to shoot his idea down—but they did the opposite.

“A year ago, we decided to fully commit to this. It’s a little bit scary because most people are working on their internship and job applications, and I’m just out here reading papers on this one weird idea,” Pall-Pareek said. “In terms of professional stance, it doesn’t seem like too much of a risk. People do look, even on failed startups, pretty favorably.”

Income share agreements are contracts that allow people to invest in a student’s college tuition and receive a fixed percentage of their future income after graduating college. Ma, Osathapan and Pall-Pareek’s start-up, called Alpha Dubois, creates a marketplace for income share agreements to take place. They are also implementing advanced machine learning techniques to assess a student’s future expected earnings, using algorithms similar to those used to assess the risk of stocks or bonds.

“We’re really just focused on trying to democratize access to educational financing. College is getting expensive,” Pall-Pareek said. “And although [income share agreements] had pitfalls in the past, it seems like people generally like the idea that it has built-in safety nets. It’s less risky than other types of loans.”

One of the pitfalls Pall-Pareek mentioned is that this model is geared toward students expecting to go into higher-paying fields. However, they are also reaching out to non-profits to promote investment in income share agreements for students following paths that may not earn a high financial reward.

“While this might not be able to cover as much aid as it might for someone who’s going towards a software engineering job, they will still be able to help out a little bit,” Pall-Pareek said. “We are committed to try to help everyone. We understand at a very base model, it’s not the best. But we’re going to try to make it fit for everyone.”

Pall-Pareek believes that, even with these downsides, their model has the potential to support students better than traditional loans that put them in debt.

“We shouldn’t be putting so much risk on [students’] backs. It should be more of this grassroots community support of building each other up and not putting obstacles in their way,” Pall-Pareek said. “We just feel like the best way to push our country forward and support people across the country as much as we can is through going towards less risky models.”

Ma also believes that their start-up model is a more equitable and moral approach to financing education.

“The cost of college is not good these days. It’s like 70k at least a year, and then it’s gonna get more and more expensive,” Ma said. “Instead of putting our students in debt, it makes more sense to invest in them like they were somebody who has the possibility of success, like a stock.”

But students do not necessarily have to receive a high salary after college to receive an income share agreement through their start-up. And, their company does not include a fixed fee payment, so students do not have to pay a share of their income right after graduating college.

“A big reason why a lot of people don’t go to college is because it’s too expensive. With less risk involved, more people are willing to go to college,” Ma said. “America wants more high-skilled workers, and they need more college-educated people…. In the long run, if more people get access to college because of [income share agreements], it is a good thing.”

The three students recently spoke on “Greenlight Maine,” a television broadcast that showcases local entrepreneurs, and made it to the semifinals of their start-up pitch competition. They found this opportunity through Lisa Noble, the senior associate director of the Career Exploration and Development Office.

“[Greenlight Maine] is basically like Shark Tank but for Maine. And so we thought it’s a good competition, regardless of the outcome, just to hone our pitch and get us thinking about presenting ourselves on stage,” Ma said. “We cooked up a little pitch and went up there. My knees were shaking—hopefully they didn’t catch that on camera.”

After graduating from Bowdoin in May, the three founders will continue to work on this start-up as their full-time job—even though Osathapan did not initially see himself pursuing this after college.

“When I came to college, I’ve always wanted to finish college, go to graduate school, get a PhD and stay in academia,” Osathapan said. “So when [Pall-Pareek] proposed this idea, I was trying to play the devil’s advocate…. But I actually came to realize it’s a really good idea with a lot of potential. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Ma expressed a similar willingness to take a risk with a start-up company.

“It’s not too bad—I’m on my mom’s insurance until I’m 26. But when I was thinking about joining the company, I was like ‘I need money. I can’t do this. I need to go hustle,’” Ma said. “So I got a job, and then one day I just realized that if I don’t ever try this, I’m never gonna be able to do it again…. So I quit the job.”

Even with the uncertainty associated with pursuing a start-up after college, Ma, Pall-Pareek and Osathapan are hopeful they will succeed in their endeavor.

“We’re really trying to make sure this is a tool to empower people. And we do think our model is pretty scalable,”  Pall-Pareek said. “We’re hoping that eventually one day we can replace standard federal student loans and other types of educational financing.”


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