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Empathetic Tech: Heidi Allstop ’10

Heidi Allstop desperately needed to “spill.” By her junior year of college, she felt stressed, lonely, and depressed, and she yearned to connect with peers who could empathize.

March 02, 2015

UW Major: Psychology
Age: 26 | San Francisco
Founder and CEO of Spill Inc. and managing director of MeToo

Heidi Allstop desperately needed to “spill.” By her junior year of college, she felt stressed, lonely, and depressed, and she yearned to connect with peers who could empathize.

So Allstop created Spill, an anonymous online forum where fellow UW-Madison students could share their troubles and receive responses from up to five peers online, with additional support from specialists who screened posts for life-threatening circumstances.

Under Allstop’s direction, Spill evolved from a student organization to a small business to an empathy powerhouse that encompassed tens of thousands of young people from nearly 250 campuses in twenty-four countries. Every day, hundreds of young people posted on, seeking advice on everyday topics — romantic relationships, school stresses, and job woes — to more serious issues that could then be triaged to professionals. Spill recently became part of MeToo, an anonymous social network where every month, more than 20 million users of all ages connect around life experiences. “It is a huge win for Spill’s community and will guarantee us stability and the ability to scale in a fraction of the time,” says Allstop, who is now managing director of the MeToo network.

Allstop was initially content with Spill’s success as a campus organization, and she credits professors and administrators at UW-Madison for encouraging her to think bigger. They connected her with influential business mentors and seed funding, and they encouraged her to enter the Burrill Business Plan Competition, which Spill won in the “Most Investment-Ready Company” category.

As graduation neared, Allstop still wasn’t confident that she could succeed as an entrepreneur, nearly walking away from Spill to take a lucrative consulting job that offered lower risk. “One afternoon, Phil Greenwood [senior lecturer for the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at the Wisconsin School of Business] kept me after class and asked if I was sure that I wanted to take this consulting job, as he saw huge promise for Spill,” Allstop says. “Those words rang in my ear for weeks until I decided to jump on his advice. I turned down the job and decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. No life decision has ever brought me as much insight, satisfaction, and growth as that leap.”

Just a year after Allstop graduated, Spill was selected for Techstars, a prestigious Boston-based incubator program that gave her access to additional funding and powerful mentors. In 2012, Spill took first place in the Global Social Venture Competition, beating out more than six hundred other contenders from around the world. The company went on to launch its mobile apps and expanded to high schools, attracting attention from the New York Times, TIME, Fast Company, and dozens of local newspapers and broadcast stations before it joined forces with MeToo.

“I’m taken aback by how I have been able to grow as a leader through my Wisconsin experience,” Allstop says. “UW-Madison has given me the wings to fly — not just from college to the ‘real world’ — but into a life that I could have never imagined while I was choosing a college.”

While Allstop lives and works in San Francisco now, she comes back to campus to guest-lecture on entrepreneurship. “I hope that I can someday become a mentor to other students who have a dream in their souls,” she says, “and I know that fellow alumni will continue to do so for me.”

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