Founder Friday Feature: Alexandra Bono, Founder & CEO, Pelican

What inspired you to start your company?

Through my personal experience of wanting to contribute to my niece’s college fund, I realized there was a gap in the market. The existing options for saving for education were either too complex, afforded to the wealth, or lacked a support mechanism for managing family dynamics.

My goal was to find a solution to enable families and friends to come together and invest in the future of their loved ones.

This led me to start Pelican, with a vision to provide a simple, secure and community-driven solution for education savings. We believe that every child deserves a chance to achieve their full potential, and we are here to make that a reality for as many families as possible.

Who are your cofounders, and what makes you a great team?

William Su and I are the co-founders of Pelican. We first met through a Social Venture Incubator program at Columbia Business School. During the program, we worked together to interview 70 customers to gain a deep understanding of the problem we were trying to solve and the pain points our customers were experiencing. This foundational research has been essential to our success as we continue to develop and refine our product roadmap.

William brings a wealth of expertise to the team with a Master’s degree in data science and qualitative methods from Columbia University, as well as a background in computer science and machine learning. With his knowledge and experience, he has been instrumental in building the technology that powers Pelican’s innovative solutions.

Together, we make a great team because we are both deeply committed to our mission of empowering families to invest in their children’s future. We have complementary skill sets and work well together to ensure that our vision is realized.

How is Pelican making a difference?

Pelican is making a difference by providing a comprehensive and accessible platform for investing in a child’s future education. Our mission is to empower families to leave a lasting legacy for future generations by providing innovative tools and resources to help them achieve their financial goals. By bridging the gap between traditional financial services and modern technology, Pelican is helping families to secure their financial future and create a brighter tomorrow.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

Starting a business comes with many challenges, both expected and unexpected. One of the challenges I faced was dealing with imposter syndrome, which can be a common struggle for entrepreneurs. It was difficult when getting a business from zero to one. However, I found that focusing on my deep understanding of the problem, my passion for finding a solution, and building a strong founder network of support helped me to overcome these feelings. Additionally, having a supportive team and mentors who believe in me and my vision has been invaluable in overcoming any self-doubt and pushing forward towards success.

What is your biggest win? 

One of my biggest wins was when we received our first check as a non-dilutive grant from the Accelerate(HER) Fund sponsored by Tiger Global Impact Ventures with Hello Alice and the Global Entrepreneurship Network. This grant was truly game-changing for the trajectory of our business, enabling us to get our product off the ground and reach our next milestone. It was a moment of validation for all the hard work and dedication we have put into this venture. Not only did it provide us with the financial resources we needed, but it also gave us the confidence to keep pushing forward, knowing that we have support from some of the most reputable organizations in the industry. It was an incredible feeling to see our vision come to life and be recognized by such a prestigious group. We are grateful for this opportunity and look forward to continuing to grow our business and make a positive impact on our community.

Who is your role model?

I admire Former First Lady Michelle Obama as she broke numerous barriers and demonstrated to young women and girls of color that they too could achieve greatness. Her dedication to public service, her emphasis on the importance of education, and her advocacy for healthy lifestyles have also been inspiring. Additionally, Michelle Obama has been open about her own experiences with imposter syndrome and the challenges she has faced in her personal and professional life, making her relatable to many who have gone through similar struggles. Overall, Michelle Obama’s resilience, grace, and commitment to making a positive impact have made her an important role model for people of all ages and backgrounds.

What do you wish you had known before starting your company?

“Looking back on my journey as a founder, one thing I wish I had known before starting my company was the immense challenge of getting a product from zero to one. While I had experience in FinTech and payments products, building Pelican from scratch was a completely new experience.

I had to learn how to balance the needs of our customers with the limitations of our resources, and how to prioritize features and improvements that would make the biggest impact. It was a difficult process, and one that required trial and error.

In hindsight, I wish I had known the uncertainty that comes with building a new product. But despite the challenges, I am incredibly proud of what our team has accomplished so far, and I am excited to continue pushing the boundaries of what is possible with Pelican.”

What is your CEO superpower?

“As the CEO of Pelican, I believe my superpower is resilience and grit. Starting a company is a challenging journey that requires determination and perseverance in the face of obstacles and setbacks. I have learned to embrace failures as learning opportunities and to remain steadfast in pursuit of our mission. I also believe that my ability to adapt to changing circumstances and to keep a positive attitude has helped our team to stay focused and motivated through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

What inspires me is the thought of creating a positive change for the future lives of children and their education. I believe that every child deserves access to a quality education, and I am passionate about empowering families to make this a reality. Being able to help families create a strong financial foundation for their children’s education is what motivates me every day. It’s a privilege to work toward something that has the potential to make a real impact on people’s lives, and I am honored to be a part of this journey.”

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G&W Team

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