HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 200
For the second time in less than six years, Houston entrepreneur Allie Danziger has navigated a company through an exit. But, with the two exists under her belt, Danziger says the two transactions could not be any more different.
Danziger founded Integrate Agency, a digital-focused public relations firm, in 2009 and sold it to another marketing and PR firm based in Austin in 2018. She founded her next company, Ampersand Professionals, in 2020 to address the challenges for upskilling young professionals to prepare them for success in the workplace — something employers really wanted, but struggled to do consistently.
Last month, Ampersand was acquired by Ascent Funding, a college loan provider that's building out a platform to support its college-aged borrowers. In this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Danziger shares how this opportunity came about and looks back on these two pivotal deals.
"Integrate definitely was not built to sell — I didn't even know that people sold businesses when I was 24 (and started the agency," Danziger, who worked in PR her entire career at that time, says, adding that she thought she'd work at the company her whole life before passing it down to her children. "It ended up being a life-changing experience and opportunity because it did open my eyes up to other other things that I could do professionally — and also just kind of like the way that businesses are structured and run."
One of those things she considered post acquisition was upskilling entry-level employees. At Integrate, she hired a lot of interns and recent college graduates. She recognized there was a gap in the market. The first problem she identified was the need to match interns to positions at companies in an optimized way. While that's how the company started, it pivoted as Danziger says she saw the bigger need not for finding interns, but for making sure they were ready for their positions from the start.
"Most business leaders need their interns and entry-level employees starting day one with an understanding of how to communicate, and they don't really have the resources to teach them some of these skills," she explains.
Once the Ampersand platform, which has tons of resources and hours of instruction loaded on it, the challenge was finding the stakeholders that wanted the platform to exist — her potential customers. Was it the colleges or the employers? Through this journey, she realized that college loan lenders are part of that equation too.
"The lenders — the ones who are giving the student loans — they're the ones who really need them to be successful in the workplace," Danziger explains, saying the success of their loan recipients ensures a timely payout for the lender. "Their business model is predicated on students being successful, and I'd always known that, but not quite known what to do with that knowledge."
Danziger says the idea for acquisition, while always in the back of her mind, really became a possibility when she went out to raise funding.
"You're always raising money, and you're always for sale," Danziger says of the startup journey.
When a potential investor raised the idea of being a potential acquirer, Danziger says she started doing some soul searching. The right acquisition deal could help her address the milestones she wanted to reach with investment funding — growing her team, expanding her technology, and broadening reach. Through a diligent process, Danziger decided on Ascent from a few other potential acquirers.
"I'm not going anywhere. I want to still keep solving this problem, but with a larger team and larger resources," she says. "Either I could go find that myself, or I could join forces we could join forces with an established organization."
Danziger says her role at Ascent is still being constructed in terms of scope and responsibilities, but her title as of now is senior vice president and general manager of student success. She will lead the company's educational program that focuses on equipping students with skills from education to employment.
She shares more on the acquisition process — including her advice to startups thinking about the M&A path. Listen to the interview here — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.
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