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Lindley Estes is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and Fredericksburg.com. This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Lindley Estes.
Local woman named one of state’s top entrepreneurs
A longtime Fredericksburg-area resident who is starting an online business connecting classrooms with corporate donors has been named as one of the state’s top-50 entrepreneurs.
Christine Goodwin, who is CEO and co-founder of an online fundraising and sourcing platform called WishStars, was honored last week at the Center for Innovative Technology’s GAP 50 Entrepreneur Awards program. The Locust Grove woman said it was a huge honor to be recognized by peer entrepreneurs.
A graduate of Spotsylvania High School and Mary Washington College (before the name change), Goodwin has 20 years of professional experience in systems and software engineering. She’s spent much of that time writing computer code for clients in the U.S. intelligence sector both as an employee and small business owner. Her current job is in North Stafford.
Goodwin is also the mother of a 6-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl, a role that has given her a window into U.S. classrooms. What she’s seen is a whole lot of overworked and underpaid teachers who routinely spend their own money on classroom resources, as well as an outdated education system that focuses more on passing tests than imbuing young students with an entrepreneurial spirit and preparing them for the high-tech jobs of the 21st century.
Those observations as well as the successes of online platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Kickstarter provided Goodwin and her chief technology officer, Michael Wellman, with the idea for WishStars. Wellman is a fellow software engineer, parent and longtime Fredericksburg-area resident who used to work with Goodwin before recently moving to Florida. Goodwin wanted to turn her burning work ethic and entrepreneurial drive into a “social enterprise” that helps improve and modernize U.S. schools.
The basic idea behind WishStars is to connect teachers and students directly with donors without a time-consuming grant-writing process or bureaucracy. Teachers and students who register for the site can describe their classroom needs or pitch an idea that they want to pursue in school. Businesses or individuals can search the listings to see which classrooms they want to support and then make donations — whether financial or volunteer hours — directly through WishStars. Algorithms will help match up donors with teachers, and potentially students with opportunities in the workplace.
WishStars plans to make money in several ways: including targeted advertising, payment processing and premium accounts for users who want to access more functions on the site.
Goodwin has been encouraged by the early response. The idea was well-received at a Startup Weekend this past summer in Reston. About 170 teachers, mostly in the Fredericksburg area, have already signed up, and nearly 4,000 people now follow the company’s Facebook page.
Goodwin is now in the process of pitching the concept to early investors. She plans to publicly launch the site in late January and improve it based on the experiences of early users.
For now WishStars is a home-based business, but Goodwin foresees that she might need a few high-tech employees and an office soon. She’s hoping that one day WishStars could be a large employer in the Fredericksburg region.
Goodwin is on the board of directors of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Innovation and Technology Council, better known as FredTech. She said there are a large number of skilled software engineers in the region who commute daily to Northern Virginia, and she hopes to play a role in creating a startup culture closer to home.