Adora is a personalized, digital college visit platform created by a group of Princeton undergraduate students. As entrepreneurship continues to thrive on campus, Adora makes history as the first student-led company to launch a product with the University as its first revenue producing customer. Raya Ward, Princeton Class of 2021 and Head of User Experience for Adora, shares her team’s story working alongside Princeton from the early stages of ideation to the final months before launch, all while adapting to the pandemic.
Over the past year, Raya Ward '21, Sacheth Sathyanarayanan '22, Joseph Rubin, '22, and Ron Miasnik '22, partnered with the undergraduate admissions office to roll out Adora, a mobile application for prospective students to experience a compelling college visit tailored to their individual interests and preferences. Adora offers a digital solution that allows visitors to freely explore college campuses with personalized tours both on and off campus. Not only does Adora provide an engaging experience for the user, Adora also serves as a vehicle for universities to better engage visitors during the admissions and recruitment cycles.
When expressing Adora’s central mission, Raya Ward said, "We want to redefine what a visit means. Instead of getting the same tour as other visitors, can you get information tailored to you? Instead of just listening to information, can you proactively engage in augmented reality? We want to change what it means to visit a college and make sure every visit is compelling and engaging for each visitor."
From the beginning, Adora was developed in conversation with University officials. "Princeton took a bet on us. When we first talked to them, Adora was still an idea, a concept. They were really excited about the vision and believed in our team, so they said, let’s go for it. Emily Crosby is the Assistant Dean of Admissions, and she has been our biggest supporter, our biggest cheerleader. We’ve been so lucky to work with Emily and the entire Admissions Office." said Ward.
After a summer of building out a prototype of the mobile application, Adora continued developing and testing in the Keller Center’s eLab Incubator Program. By January, the company had closed a contract with Princeton Undergraduate Admissions. In the month following, the team won first place in the E-Club Pitch Competition and recruited University Trustee Ann Kirschner *78, education entrepreneur, and higher ed administrator, as an advisor. The application was set to go live in May during Reunions.
However, as COVID-19 limited travel and university visits, Adora’s planned May launch was postponed and the team adapted to the changing climate of the pandemic. It quickly became clear that Adora’s product was becoming increasingly relevant as social distancing and restrictions to in-person experiences forced admissions offices to rethink their campus visit programs. Universities had to think creatively about how to respond to the pandemic while also attracting future applicants. "It was after we settled with the shock that we realized, wait, this is an opportunity," said Ward. “This is a problem that we are already starting to solve. We have a head start, we have a product. We are in a place where we are uniquely situated to not only present a safe visit option, but also a really convincing solution for visitors when they need it the most.”
As Adora prepares for its upcoming launch with Princeton, the team has now entered its final stretch of testing as the University plans for the future of campus visits. In the meantime, Adora has cultivated their company’s vision amidst the ongoing pandemic. Ward recently participated in the Reunions Tiger Entrepreneurs Conference Startup Workshop: Perfecting Your Pitch with Ita Ekpoudom ‘03 and Kareem Maddox ‘11.
"The workshop was a safe space for me to practice pitching and get feedback. Kareem and Ita were so supportive, and I felt encouraged by their reactions and interest in Adora. The main takeaway for me was that we should be focusing around coronavirus. When we are talking about the future of our company, we need to be presenting it from where we are now. The pandemic happened, and here we are working to make visits safe," said Ward.
Given the important problem that Adora solves for admissions offices, universities located all across the country have shown interest in the platform. Ward expressed that in the coming months, the team hopes to bring on a few additional schools as early adopter customers.
As an active member of Princeton’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Ward said that her experience working on Adora on campus has been an incredibly rewarding learning opportunity.
"I am someone who is relatively new to entrepreneurship. This is something that I never thought I would have been a part of if you asked me a year ago. Now I can’t get it out of my head! What I found is that Princeton is a great playground. Students haven’t been vendors for Princeton before, but we have been getting so much encouragement along the way, and we want to create a pathway for other student companies. I am hoping this is the beginning, and people will not only see Princeton as a place to ask questions and learn about entrepreneurship, but as a safe space to actually start something. I think we all have it in us."