Career day and field trips—two staples of American education. But organizing them can pose logistical and financial challenges for schools. Finding presenters, syncing calendars and arranging transportation are just some of the headaches that may arise.
Now ways exist to beam those experiences into schools. Among them: Nepris, provider of an online tool to connect classrooms and workplaces through live and recorded video streams with a professional. Founded in 2014, the company has amassed a network of 70,000 educators and 31,000 industry professionals, all with the goal of showing different career paths to students as early as kindergarten. “You’re never too young,” says Nepris CEO and co-founder Sabari Raja. “Kids don’t know what’s out there.”
The Plano, Texas-based company can also count some more investors as part of its network. The company has raised a $5 million Series A round to grow its team from 13 to about 25 full-time employees by year’s end, expand into more schools and partner with more businesses.
Virtual school operator K12 led the round. The publicly traded company is one of Nepris’ top customers, implementing the platform at all of its Destination Career Academies, Raja says. Earlier this year, K12 acquired its own coding bootcamp, Galvanize.
The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Next Wave Impact Fund, Sustain VC, Strada Education and Bonsal Capital participated. Nepris has raised $7.5 million to date.
Promo video from Nepris explaining the platform.
Trips Aren’t Cheap
On the Nepris platform, teachers provide at least three weeks’ notice until the day of their planned live virtual session. They also identify needs—lessons and topics of interest, for example. Educators can also look at upcoming live sessions offered by employers and request to join those. Nepris hosts panels of professionals from various companies. One session can reach hundreds of classrooms, Raja says.
Nepris tries to accommodate demands by connecting the teacher with industry professionals who are available on the day requested. These people must be associated with a company or organization to be part of Nepris’ network, and so far they come from fields as varied as business, engineering, fashion and sports medicine. Nepris has allowed some retired professionals and self-employed consultants to do sessions as well.
No in-person contact with students means no background checks required for the professionals on the platform. Every professional goes through a mock session with a Nepris employee before an actual live session.
Almost 62 percent of the 500,000 students served by Nepris come from lower socioeconomic groups. The company has facilitated 9,000 live sessions between classrooms and workplaces, sessions where a professional can answer questions delivered by the students through video conference or Nepris’ messaging platform. Professionals can also give classrooms a live tour of their workspace and even judge projects and presentations the students create during class time.
All this saves the time and cost of a field trip. Schools can fork out hundreds of dollars to rent school buses, and often need to spend time collecting bus fees and permission slips from parents.
A 30-day free version of the company’s platform comes with lesson templates and at least one live industry chat. Free users can also browse Nepris’ video library or message professionals. A premium version sold as site licenses for K-12 schools and unlimited accounts for colleges offers personalized recommendations and custom live sessions, among other features.
Pricing is based on total student enrollment at schools. It can range from $4,000 to $6,000 a year.
The company continues to add new features to the platform. Last summer, Nepris added data from the U.S. Department of Labor to its platform about various careers to help students better understand what life is like in those fields.
Raja believes that by the time college students think about what career to enter, it’s too late. She hopes her company helps by raising questions about livelihood for earlier ages. “Industry-driven education is where the future is,” says Raja, 45. “We connect the dots.”
Nepris’ biggest markets to date are California, Texas, Hawaii and Louisiana. Raja does have an interest in going international after growing in the U.S.
Giving Kids an Edge
Research backs up the importance of field trips and career and technical education. Academics from the University of Arkansas found that field trips correlate to improved student engagement and standardized test scores. And the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development reports that students concentrating in career and technical education programs have a higher graduation rate compared to the national average.
The company also offers a product that can be rebranded and used by so-called “intermediary” organizations that partner with schools and community members to bring career and technical education into the classroom.
One such intermediary organization is PREP-KC, short for Partnership for Regional Educational Preparation-Kansas City. It’s a 14-year-old nonprofit that serves about 70,000 students in Kansas and Missouri, 84 percent of whom are on free or reduced lunch and 79 percent of whom are students of color.
In the past, concerns over trade secrets, patient privacy and personal safety have made trips to different workplaces such as medical centers and construction sites difficult to arrange, says Doug Elmer, the organization’s vice president.
Now in its second year with Nepris, PREP-KC’s branded version of the platform has so far brought high school biology students to a veterinary operating room and fourth graders learned about advanced manufacturing math and sales from one of McDonald’s largest hamburger bun providers.
He says PREP-KC has logged about 420 sessions with about 11,000 students in total. “Our north star is to help kids graduate with market value assets—something beyond a high school diploma that gives them an edge,” he says.
A Prep KC promo video on its Nepris partnership.