Asking someone where they went to college can be an easy conversation starter, but for Judy Harris and Katie Palencsar, that question was the beginning of a partnership.
Palencsar, CEO and founder of edtech startup Unbound Concepts, graduated from Philadelphia’s Drexel University with her Master’s in Education in 2007 and Harris, a longtime executive in the educational publishing space graduated, well, as she put it: “There is a significant number of years between our time at Drexel.”
Although the two didn’t meet on the Drexel campus as students, their shared Dragon past immediately connected them at the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship. Harris, who runs her own startup consulting business, is an Entrepreneur in Residence at MCE.
“As Katie was transitioning to MCE, we met in the foyer and we realized talking to each other that we both went to Drexel,” she said. “After a few more conversations, Katie asked me to be an advisor for Unbound.”
For Palencsar, having an advisor with industry expertise like Harris is invaluable. Part of what Unbound Concepts does is categorizes books by different objectives, making it easier for teachers to choose materials that are appropriate for their students.
“It sounds kind of cliché and silly but to have a really close advisor that has gone through what you’re going through is huge,” she said.
Harris spent more than 25 years working in the education space, with a focus on publishing. She’s held top positions at Crayola, Discovery Networks and Carson-Dellosa Publishing.
She’s seen the problems facing the industry and now sees Palencsar as the person who can help fix them. If Palencsar is the future of educational publishing then Harris wants to use her past to help.
“It’s very interesting to be a woman COO and I had to break a few glass ceilings,” she said. “One of the things that I really enjoy is giving back and being able to work with Katie as a woman entrepreneur and not just on the business side but the COO side as well.”
The admiration goes both ways.
“I’ve seen what she accomplished, she is someone I aspire to be like,” Palencsar said. “You see someone who has gone through Drexel and has worked in that industry, someone who has followed a similar path.”
Harris and Palencsar were both recently honored by the alma mater that brought them together. Harris received the 2016 Special Distinction Drexel University Alumni Award and Palencsar got a nod for Outstanding Educator from Drexel’s School of Education.
Unbound Concepts also recently partnered with Baker & Taylor. The publishing giant sells into 80 percent of libraries. Harris said the partnership has caused the rest of the industry to take notice.
“It’s been a huge partnership and what’s come is lots of publishers coming to the table for more and more,” she said. “To get all of those companies is huge. They are the leading providers. It’s recognition of what Katie has done and that’s huge for us.”