ND Founders Profile #2: Why This Successful EY Employee Became an Entrepreneur

Author: Lillian Piz

Facebook Web Nd Founders Jasmine Shells Jasmine Shells (business, accounting and international business, class of 2013)


Company Founded: Five to Nine Year Graduated: 2013
Title: Co-founder and CEO Degree: B.A. Business, Accounting and International Business
Location: Chicago Residence Hall: Cavanaugh

Jasmine Shells has a rich history of fostering meaningful connections amongst her peers and colleagues. From her time as a student leader at Notre Dame to becoming communications chair of the Black Professionals Network at EY in Chicago, it seems Shells was destined to solve corporate management’s struggle to efficiently and effectively host employee programs and events.

Five to Nine is a software platform which enables companies to streamline the process of planning, organizing and executing their employee engagement programs and tracking the associated ROI. If a company wanted to host a monthly staff lunch-and-learn series, Five to Nine’s software as a service solution would allow the organizing committee to keep track of participant attendance, communicate information and updates about the event and conduct a post-event evaluation to understand the level of engagement, all through a single platform. 

Shells first encountered entrepreneurship while working with the Chicago startup accelerator 1871 through the EY Launch internship program. Shells arrived just as 1871 was starting operations and became one of the first to help to run what is now one of the largest startup incubators in the nation. During this time is when Shells says her “love of entrepreneurship took off.” She recognized her own desire to take initiative and realized, “oh wow, this is a career. People start businesses as a job.” 

Shells came up with the idea for Five to Nine while she was working full-time at EY where she often either led or helped to organize internal company events. While Shells enjoyed putting on these programs, she was often frustrated by having to manually gather siloed communications from places like Mailchimp, Survey Monkey and email. Shells questioned, “why can’t we just create one place to put all of this?”

After making it to the final round of multiple accelerator competitions only to continually get turned down for funding, one investor confronted Shells with a critical question: was their product a service or was it software? What followed was a pivot from what was originally a networking marketplace model where Five-to-Nine would host events for companies, to software which companies can purchase and use internally to manage their own events. At the forefront of Five to Nine’s technology is ROI analytics of internal company programs and events which Shells emphasizes is “huge because currently less than 10 percent of companies know the ROI [of these kinds of programs and events].”

What is Shell’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? “[D]on’t fall in love with your idea. Fall in love with solving a problem for a customer. The core mission behind [Five to Nine] and what we care about has still existed across all these pivots and iterations of the business.”