Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Davis couple launch website to help parents fund kids’ college plans

Cathie Anderson
Cathie Anderson

If you feel as though your child’s trove of toys is growing faster than contributions to her college savings plan, Davis resident Aimee Hasson will soon offer an option to reverse that trend.

Hasson’s website,, functions like an online gift registry for educational savings accounts, known as 529 plans. It works in one of two ways: Investment companies can sign a contract with The Gift of Education to offer the service as a benefit to any customer with a qualified account, or individuals can create their own account profiles.

In either case, the account holder sends a link through which friends and family can make contributions.

Hasson came up with the idea for The Gift of Education after her late friend, Ashley Stevens, made a dying request: “Make sure my kids go to college.” It prompted Stevens’ friends to open a bank account for her four children, but confusion ensued when it came time to write checks: Where should they send the money? To whom should they make their checks payable? Could they write one check for all the kids, or did they need to write one for each?

Hasson created a Web page to give everyone some direction – and thought: “I could use a site like this for my two sons.” In 2010, she and husband Paul Hasson, both University of California, Davis, grads, invested a portion of their retirement savings to make the idea a reality. For the past two years, they have been putting the website through beta tests, helping individuals collect more than $30,000. Hasson expects to unveil the site to a wider audience within weeks.

The company makes its money by charging a $2 to $3 licensing fee for each contribution. A payment processor typically also would charge 2 percent to 3 percent to process the transaction, but Hasson has negotiated a deal that allows each parent to receive up to $50,000 in contributions without incurring this fee. She also created a system through which fees can be paid by the 529 fund manager, the parent or the giver.

Hasson said it’s entirely possible that some 529 plans will pay the licensing fee: “They spend a lot of time and a lot of money trying to get new money under management. If they had a tool that will make it a lot easier for money to show up in their accounts magically, with really no effort on their parts, then that would be great.”

Just call him Mr. Roboto

The National Science Foundation invested $650,000 in Graham Ryland’s tiny modular robots several years ago in a bid to inspire a new generation of math whizzes and engineers. So far, Ryland has won converts in at least 55 schools around the nation.

“Math and computer programming are very abstract concepts,” said Ryland, a mechanical engineer who grew up near Cool, “so it’s hard for kids to really get a handle on it. Robots bring those abstract concepts into the physical world and make them a hands-on learning experience.”

Ryland’s company, Barobo, calls its tiny automatons Linkbots. It sells them to schools, along with activity mats printed with graph tables. Because many algebra equations are meant to be graphed, the Linkbots essentially demonstrate the math. Eventually, students become so comfortable that they use math to program the Linkbots to do all sorts of crazy things.

One student, nervous about asking a girl to the prom, programmed the Linkbot to pop the question. Another student dressed up Linkbots, creating ninja robots that duked it out. They email videos of their efforts to Ryland and his team at 221 G St. in Davis. The Barobo team has posted a number of them at Be sure to click the video tab.

Seeding Davis’ future

Davis Roots, a nonprofit business accelerator, is incubating a third class of entrepreneurs.

The goals are to grow the entrepreneurial community in Davis and stop the brain drain that has local college graduates heading to Silicon Valley for lucrative jobs, said Alex Rossbach, the organization’s general manager. Owners of fledgling startups such as Barobo and The Gift of Education arrive at 604 Second St. in late April every year. They bring plenty of questions about intellectual property, accounting, marketing, finding personnel and technological challenges.

Over nine months, board members and mentors at Davis Roots make introductions and provide counseling, helping would-be entrepreneurs gain the capital and know-how needed to establish their operations. Rossbach also invites entrepreneurs from around the region to share their insights.

The business accelerator got its start with donations from corporate sponsors, but one of the fledgling startups just might provide a windfall one day.

“We take a small equity stake from each company in the program,” Rossbach said. “We will keep that stake until the exit event, whether it’s acquisition or an IPO. Five to seven years is the typical timeline for that. If we get a large sum of money, it can be used to fund startups. Our eventual goal is to be able to give seed funding to some startups.”