“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a difficult question commonly asked of kids (and sometimes adults).
Nepris, a startup based in Austin, TX, wants to offer students a peek at different career choices by playing matchmaker between industry professionals and classroom teachers and students. For Sabari Raja, co-founder and CEO, the goal is “to make industry engagement a part of the everyday classroom experience, instead of something that happens just once or twice a year.”
The company recently raised $550,000 in a seed round led by NewSchools Venture Fund (which gave $200,000) and joined by angel investors including David Better (best known as the co-founder of NewToy, which was acquired by Zynga), David Matthews (owner of Trailblazer Capital), Kent Novak (Senior VP at Texas Instruments) and Pradeep Sethi (former CTO of Dell Education).
Teachers can request a session by sharing information about the class subject, lesson topics, desired outcomes, grade level, curriculum alignment and preferred times on the Nepris platform. The system will notify registered industry experts who fit the criteria. Upon confirmation from both parties, live video sessions are hosted on Nepris and recorded for future viewing. Students can use the platform to ask and text questions.
While the most typical format is that of an Q&A, Raja says Nepris has also been used by students to share their projects and solicit feedback from professionals.
Launched in April 2014, Nepris has a community of thousands of teachers from 600 schools in 45 states, along with industry professionals from over 400 companies. Raja says a lot of traction has come from schools that deliver a project-based learning curriculum, along with career and technical education teachers.
The company currently charges $99 per teacher per year for unlimited use of the platform. Over half of the teachers, however, are currently sponsored by companies like Samsung and the Container Store as part of their philanthropy and education outreach. Originally intended to get students more interested in STEM fields, the platform has built a community of STEAM (A for the arts) professionals in diverse fields, including the Art Institute of Dallas, General Motors and Sony.
Another revenue opportunity for Nepris is white-labeling and licensing its platform to “STEM Hubs,” regional networks of local business and education leaders. (Here’s one in Los Angeles, for example.)
With Nepris, Raja aims to increase student engagement in topics whose real-world relevance may not be immediately clear. So the next time biology students are bored and wondering why prokaryotes matter, it may be time to buzz the Dallas Zoo.