Heidi Allstop

Online Empathy

Heidi Allstop BA2010 desperately needed to “spill.” By her junior year, she felt stressed, lonely, and depressed, and she yearned to connect with peers who could empathize. So she created Spill, an anonymous online forum where fellow UW–Madison students could share their troubles and receive online responses from peers, with additional support from specialists who screened posts for life-threatening circumstances.

Under Allstop’s direction, Spill evolved from a student organization to an empathy powerhouse that encompassed tens of thousands of young people from nearly 250 campuses across the United States and Canada. Every day, hundreds of students posted on spillnow.com, seeking advice on everyday topics — romantic relationships, school stresses, and job woes — to more serious issues that could then be triaged to professionals.

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 Wisconsin School of Business’s Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition, which Spill won in the “Most Investment-Ready Company” category.

In 2012, Spill took first place in the Global Social Venture Competition, beating more than 600 other contenders. The company went on to launch mobile apps and expanded to high schools, attracting attention from the New York Times, TIME, Fast Company, and dozens of newspapers and broadcast stations. Spill then became part of MeToo, an anonymous social network where every month, more than 20 million users of all ages connect around life experiences. “It’s a huge win for Spill’s community,” says Allstop, who is now managing director of the MeToo network.

Allstop was a 2015 winner of the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s Forward under 40 award, which honors young alumni for significant achievement.

“I’m taken aback by how I have been able to grow as a leader through my Wisconsin experience,” she said. “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.”