Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

January 23, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Community Pools | Meet the new career matchmaking app for marketing students

Entrepreneur Alex Abell is always looking for new ways to use technology to connect people in real life.

Alex Abell has stepped away from day-to-day management of Lunchpool, the start-up that he conceived in late 2018 to connect people over lunch, but not from the idea of pools that connect people in new and exciting ways.

His latest effort, which he is calling “Community Pools,” originated from a collaboration with the Department of Marketing in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) to develop a matchmaking-type app for students and employers.

“We needed an infrastructure to connect partners in our Professional Sales Forum (PSF) with students,” said Alex Zablah, Department Head. “We did not have a good, systematic way to make those connections.”

The PSF program is focused on developing the next generation of sales talent through the Marketing Department’s innovative sales curriculum, hands-on leadership development opportunities, and meaningful interaction with best-in-class partner companies.

The end result is “very good jobs for our students,” Zablah explains, noting that the challenge of facilitating connections becomes even more complicated for a department which is one of the largest majors at UTK – 1,400 students.

“We knew that technology had to play a role,” Zablah said, adding that it had to be easy to use and asynchronous, meaning both students looking to make connections with partner companies and the prospective employers could do so at times convenient to them and without the involvement of a UTK moderator.

“It could not just be traditional recruiting and speed dating,” he added.

Zablah was familiar with Abell and his passion for facilitating connections because the latter’s wife, Annika, is an Assistant Professor of Marketing and the reason the couple relocated to Knoxville from Florida several years ago.

The result of a very fast project is something that the department calls its lookbook for the Professional Sales Forum. The department has a tool to enhance opportunities for students and PSF members. Students enter their profiles, and the partner searches the electronic site for prospective employees and contacts any that are interesting.

“It is much easier for both parties,” Zablah says. “Partners and students are now doing their homework ahead of PSF events. There are a lot of sales programs out there, but we are the first to have an app like this.”

For Abell, it’s a new start-up idea to advance.

“Career pools are the first of many goal-based micro-communities that I’m testing out,” he says. “I’m also working with a few other clients to build community pools that help people achieve other shared goals like organizing group workouts, connecting with industry peers, and several other use cases. My end goal is to build one platform that can adapt to help all sorts of community leaders connect their audiences like never before.”

Abell developed the underlying technology, which he owns, with a combination of open-source software and some customized coding.