From WSJ: Raise Labs Scores $4.5M to Help Students ‘Unlock’ Scholarship Money

College-bound high-school students in the U.S. typically don’t know what scholarships they may qualify for until they are already applying to schools, or have been admitted and are looking for financial aid. But one San Francisco company called Raise Labs Inc. wants to help them “unlock” scholarship dollars each week starting as early as ninth grade, well before they decide where to apply.

According to the startup’s co-founder and Chief Executive Preston Silverman, Raise Labs, also known as Raise.me, just attained $4.5 million in Series A funding to take the company’s scholarship-discovery platform to a wide range of high schools, colleges and universities in the U.S.

Owl Ventures led the round joined by First Round Capital, SJF Ventures and individual angel investors including Deborah Quazzo, Mark Goines, Paul Freedman and Thomas D. Lehrman.

The Raise.me app asks high-school students to create a profile–a process they are usually comfortable with based on their use of other social media apps like Facebook or Snapchat–including details about who they are, where they are from and about their academic and extracurricular achievements. The app gives them prompts about what details to include.

For higher-education professionals typically in admissions, financial aid or enrollment departments, Raise.me represents a new way to get the word out about their schools and scholarships. It also allows them to connect with and attract a more diverse range of prospective students, including from populations that are underrepresented on their campuses.

Students at about 7,000 schools across the U.S. and in seven U.S. territories already use Raise.me. The company partners with colleges in 26 states so far to ensure scholarships are available to them.

Pennsylvania State University is among these institutions. According to Jacqueline Edmondson, associate vice president and associate dean for undergraduate education, the university promised scholarship money via Raise.me to those who, among other things, had a perfect attendance record, studied the same language for more than two or three years, took advanced course work, had high GPAs, or participated in a team sport.

So far, Penn State has committed $164,000 to 77 students (or about $4,000 each) who were admitted to the university after initially connecting via Raise.me.

Beyond helping kids attain scholarship money, Southwest High School Counselor Beatriz Zayas says the app has additional positive effects. Her high school in El Centro, Calif., has a population that is mostly Latino, she says, with some 600 seniors graduating in a typical year. A large percentage of her students will be the first to attend college in their families.

Because of this, she says, many wouldn’t have known about how the college admissions process works, or even the names of credible colleges and universities, beyond a few they hear about in pop culture. Raise.me helps them learn about all of this from an early point in their high-school education.

Owl Ventures’ co-founder and partner Jed Smith said that his firm expects Raise.me to work with hundreds of additional colleges and universities in the next year, while maintaining a high level of engagement and user-growth among high-school students.

Colleges and universities already spend millions of dollars on marketing outreach, he said, so they are easily willing to pay Raise.me a predictable, monthly fee for a direct connection to students who would be strong additions to their communities, he said.

Companies like Raise.me may eventually curb skyrocketing student debt and delinquency on student loans, the investor said.

Outstanding student loan balances in the U.S. stood at $1.16 trillion as of February 2015, according to reports from the New York Fed’s Consumer Credit Panel.

Prior to raising its Series A funding, Raise Labs attained $1 million in angel funding, as well as non-dilutive cash awards totaling $200,000 from education tech and business plan competitions including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s College Knowledge challenge, and others, Mr. Silverman said.

Originally published in The Wall Street Journal on April 22, 2015 by Lora Kolodny.