Today, money speeds across the world online via Venmo and PayPal. Previously, old institutions like churches were left out of this technological advancement. The fact that these religious organizations are reliant on donation baskets and face-to-face contact make them ripe candidates for digital integration, according to alumnus Peter Cetale ’19. Religio, a church management startup co-founded by Cetale, aims to create modern solutions for churches.
First founded in 2017, Religio supplements the traditional donation baskets and in-person meetups of churches with online payment processing and communications technology.
“Currently, churches and nonprofits are failing to manage their members and communicate effectively to them,” Cetale told The Sun in a phone interview. “We give nonprofits a tool to better connect with and engage their donors online.”
Cetale was first inspired to innovate in the church and nonprofit space while volunteering at his hometown church. Initially, Cetale and his team focused on the idea of facilitating digital donations for churches.
“I started seeing a need when I was volunteering freshman year. The first company I created, before Religio, was a payment solutions processor, basically like a Paypal,” he said.
As Cetale and his team began their research, however, they realized that payment processing was just the tip of the iceberg. The central need for churches and nonprofits was a better way to manage and communicate with their congregation members.
“We adjusted [the company] sophomore year and we have now one all-encompassing platform that is both mobile, web and management based,” said Cetale.
While Religio earns money through commissions on donations, the primary component of the revenue stream comprises of monthly subscription fees paid by its users. Much like how Netflix offers different prices based on the number of devices on the account, Religio offers different prices based on the services churches require. The prices range from $280 to $525 per month.
Although church management software may appear niche, the market size is anything but. According to The Guardian, US religion market revenues in 2016 were estimated to be around $378 billion.
Entrepreneurial Journey Through Cornell
Cetale attributed Cornell’s entrepreneurial opportunities with getting his ideas off the ground.
“Each program at Cornell is a stepping stone,” Cetale said. “Blackstone [Launchpad] is the initial idea stage. Life Changing Labs is an incubator which goes more in depth on customer discovery. eLab is an accelerator that goes even further with the process of customer discovery and making the product.”
His main suggestion for improvement to the current entrepreneurial ecosystem would be for the University to give academic credit to students entrepreneurs, who often spend numerous hours working outside classes — similar to how students involved in research or project teams are offered credit.
“If you’re working on your own business 60 hours a week, in addition to school, it would be nice if you could receive academic credits,” Cetale said. “I think entrepreneurs learn so much from building their first startup; with guidance from teachers, it could really exemplify this process.”
For students looking to take coursework on entrepreneurship, Cetale suggested that students look into Cornell’s new entrepreneurship minor. Housed under the SC Johnson School of Business, the minor is available to all undergraduate students.
For those looking to start their own business, Cetale was fond of the courses offered by eLab professors.
“The minor has a list of all the courses you could take related to all aspects of entrepreneurship,” he said. “A lot of the [courses taught by] eLab professors, like Ken Rother, Steven Gal and Tom Schryver, are usually the best. The eLab program does a great job of teaching you the basics of customer discovery, marketing, pricing, all of which are super important.”
While an undergraduate at Cornell, Cetale helped co-found the Cornell Entrepreneurship Club in 2016 — which he considered one of his most important accomplishments at Cornell.
“The main goal was for people to find other co-founders… We’ve helped pair people together on different ideas and I’m very proud about how we’ve helped people become connected,” he said.
Cetale advised would-be student entrepreneurs to not focus too much on the results, and instead concentrate on the “learning process.”
“Don’t worry about making mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. You’re doing it for the first time.” Cetale said. “Most likely, your first startup won’t be a success, but you’ll learn so much and it will prepare you for leadership and innovation in life.”