Jumping into the Shark Tank has to be a stressful and scary experience for most entrepreneurs, but Phil Black doesn’t even break a sweat at the thought of going in twice. After all, he has been a Navy SEAL officer, an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, and a firefighter, not to mention father of four boys!
In January of 2014, Black pitched his creation FitDeck to the Sharks, but came away without a deal. However, they were so impressed with his background he was told he could come back with another product or business idea. Like any true entrepreneur, Black didn’t let his failure on Shark Tank slow him down and four months later FitDeck was acquired by Implus, a consumer products company that included Perfect Fitness and New Balance Sports Monitors.
After selling his business, Black began to seriously consider what resources were available to help prepare his teenage sons for applying to college and help them acquire useful skills for success in life. Some of the resources he investigated were academically or technically good, but there were few engaging personalities or stories. “Teenagers are tough nuts to crack,” he admits and probably wouldn’t respond well to generic suggestions on a sterile website. Not discouraged by this lack of resources, Black decided to develop an engaging and challenging resource himself. Already a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Business School, Black studied to become credentialed in College Admissions Counseling and became a mentor to high school students. His experience with these students further inspired him to build the “best (and earliest) college admissions program in the country.”
PrepWell Academy is an on-line program for high school students that is based on the college admissions process and guides the students and their parents through self-reflection, discovery and preparation. The goal of the program is for students to develop critical personal and professional skills to face the real-world challenges that are inevitable for everyone. Weekly videos provide advice, life skills and projects, and most lessons take three-five minutes to complete. One-on-one in-person counseling is also available when needed.
Although college preparation is not commonly begun until 11th or 12th grade, Black believes there is significant advantage to starting earlier. PrepWell Academy lesson plans start in the 9th and 10th grades, although a student can begin them later. The Academy also provides college essay review services, standardized test prep and financial aid counseling, or referrals to partners that provide these additional services when necessary.
Admitting that many school counselors do a good job preparing their students for the college admission process, Black says his advantage is that he has such a broad academic and work background and achievements at high levels of success in athletics, education, military service and private sector business. High school guidance counselors, while well-trained and committed to helping their students achieve success, do not typically have such a broad background and the insights and advice that such experiences provide.
PrepWell is based on and focused toward college admission preparation, but Black emphasizes that he does not see his job as maximizing the number of students who get into “brand name” schools, or even if they attend college at all. Instead his mission is to help students make smart decisions about their future, whether they want to go to college, go directly into a trade, or take a gap year to explore the possibilities. He does not post a listing of where PrepWell students go to college, and says the best measure of success is how his students are doing when they are 25 years old (or roughly six and a half years after high school graduation). There are four measures that are important: gainful employment, enjoyment of work, seeing a bright future, and little financial burden. It doesn’t matter whether someone skips college to become a plumber, or wins a Rhodes scholarship after graduating from Princeton. These measures of success can be met under infinite scenarios, Black says, and his job is to help each individual student create their own path to that success.