When Barbara Ciaramitaro joined Capella University in 2018, she and her fellow faculty members faced a dilemma—what sort of course work could the online, for-profit university assign students that would also appeal to potential employers.
After months of vetting third-party programs, the university chose Riipen, a Vancouver-based startup that offers a platform where schools listed the expertise and services students could provide and where businesses shared the services they needed. The platform could pair them up for projects, and students would end the project with a presentation of their findings and work to companies in exchange for course credit.
“It quickly demonstrated the value it had for students,” says Ciaramitaro, who chairs Capella’s undergraduate information technology program and provides students with projects through the platform. “It gets them real-world experience. Capella students are in an online environment, where sometimes it’s a challenge to find that experiential learning.”
This partnership with Riipen (pronounced “ripen”) has had such an impact on Capella that the school’s owner has joined a new, $3.75 million round of funding for the startup.
SEI Ventures, the seed-stage venture arm of Capella owner Strategic Education Inc., participated along with Reach Capital, Strada Education Network, EduLab, Entangled Group, Atrium and Arizona State University’s ScaleU. This round brings Riipen’s total funding to date to about $6 million.
Rogier ten Kate of Durham College in Ontario, Canada, explains how to use Riipen.
Eye on U.S.
The new round of funding will help Riipen hire more sales and marketing staffers to grow the company’s presence in the U.S., says company CEO and co-founder Dana Stephenson. But the company also sees growth opportunities in other markets. It has projects available next year from universities in Australia and the UK.
“Globally, there is such a movement to increase employability,” says Stephenson, 31. “This is not just a North America problem.”
The Canadian company has 48 full-time employees, two-thirds of whom work in marketing, sales and customer success. The company has offices in Vancouver and Toronto and has plans to open a U.S. office in 2020.
Founded in 2015, Riipen’s platform has mostly businesses and schools based in Canada. University of Waterloo, University of Toronto and Suffolk University in Boston are among the schools to use Riipen. The company claims to serve more than 5,000 employers and more than 40,000 students at 150-plus colleges worldwide.
In addition to projects that reward students with course credit, businesses on Riipen may post “challenges” for students and young professionals to complete for cash, prizes and job interviews. Projects on the platform can range from weeks to a semester long, with student presentations to businesses done in person or remotely.
This year has seen major investment in companies that tout services to connect education, students and employers. Coursera raised $103 million this year and became a unicorn, and Lambda School raised $30 million.
Stephenson sees potential partnership opportunities with coding bootcamps and wants to invest in the platform so that it can handle larger class sizes. This year, the company introduced video conferencing on its platform. “We want to help anyone who feels underrepresented by their resumes,” he says.
Projects Include Social Media Strategy for Police
Among the past projects found on the platform’s online catalog is an effort to help Microsoft develop a branding strategy aimed at women and LGBT community members, a course to help Walmart develop an app aimed at younger customers, and a course to help the Toronto Police Service evaluate its social media strategy.
Businesses pay $999 a year for three in-class projects and access to all institutions on the platform, project management tools, customer success support and other services. The price increases to $2,499 a year for 10 in-class projects, five job postings, a dedicated account manager and additional services.
Large-scale businesses pay a custom price to avoid limits on the platform, and academic institutions pay a custom price to access Riipen’s 4,000-plus industry clients, 80-plus course templates, unlimited student and administration accounts, branded portals for the institution, and other services.
Individual educators and students can use the platform for free. Administrators can invite individual businesses and organizations to the platform for free as well.
For Ciaramitaro, the Capella faculty member who offers an IT course through Riipen’s platform, she says she’d like to see Riipen add more U.S.-based businesses and more IT-related subjects including cybersecurity.
She says she’s become an advocate for Riipen within her university, which has added projects for master’s students and may add projects for health care students in the future.
Ciaramitaro’s entry on the Riipen platform says she can connect businesses with groups of students to spend 300 cumulative hours on projects like an IT security review and development of an implementation plan for a new technology. “It has really exceeded our expectations,” she says.