Tuesday, September 02, 2014

PrepMe founder is back with sophomore effort

PrepMe founder is back with sophomore effort

 - Karan Goel
Karan Goel
Two years ago, Karan Goel sold his test-preparation startup, PrepMe Inc. Now he's back for a sophomore effort with GetSet Inc.
Instead of trying to help kids get into college, he's focused on keeping them in school with an app that's part social network, part Siri.
The company has raised $2.5 million from high-profile local backers led by KGC Capital, the venture fund of longtime Chicago investment banker Richard Kiphart; Chicago Ventures; Fieldglass Inc. founder Jai Shekhawat; Braintree founder Bryan Johnson, and Howard Tullman's G2T3V fund. Social&Capital, a fund based in Palo Alto, California, also invested.
GetSet, headquartered in the East Loop, has nine employees.
Mr. Goel, 30, recently signed up his first customer: Arizona State University, which is rolling out GetSet to nearly 11,000 freshmen and 5,000 transfer students across multiple campuses. American Career College, a vocational school in Los Angeles, also is using GetSet.
As colleges face more competition for students and pressure to keep costs low, schools have to pay closer attention to keeping their customers. "Schools lose tens of millions when students drop out," he said. "This is their biggest problem."
Even some Big 10 schools graduate little more than half their students in four years. "I didn't realize how big the problem was," Mr. Goel said.
GetSet is charging schools $35,000 to more than $100,000 a year for the software, depending their size.
The primary tool allows students to ask questions online — on topics including how to deal with financial aid forms or find an office on campus — that are answered by students at their school. GetSet starts with a pool of students, called ambassadors, who volunteer to answer common questions a new student might have. Other answers will be offered by students over time.
The database relies on natural-language processing and matching to come up with the right answers in real time from what's already in the database. The platform also allows other students to comment and provide additional answers.
The idea is that new students will get answers from other students who have successfully navigated the same problems.
An algorithm helps students find peers with similar backgrounds and interests. If they use GetSet the same way they do social networks, they'll build relationships more quickly with other students and find their way on campus.
Mr. Goel says research shows the biggest predictor of whether a student stays in college and succeeds is whether they made a "true friend" on campus.
Every student gets an account when they enroll. So far at Arizona State, about 20 percent of the freshmen and transfer students have signed onto the system.
"We're not a silver bullet," Mr. Goel said. "We're helping people who aren't necessarily seeking help."
Mr. Goel formed the company nearly two years ago and tested the product over the summer with individual students at DePaul University, Columbia College Chicago and City Colleges of Chicago. One function of the GetSet app is to send students text-message reminders of things such as study groups.
Follow John on Twitter at @JohnPletz.

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