Abroad101 Aims to Be TripAdvisor for Study Abroad, Seeks Series A

4/30/12Follow @xconomy

There’s a matchmaking startup in town that’s in the midst of raising its Series A round. I’m not talking about an online dating service, though.

“We’re like an eHarmony for study abroad programs,” says Mike Stone, co-founder and president of said startup, Abroad101.

The Boston-based company was one of the winners of the inaugural section of the MassChallenge accelerator program in 2010, taking home a $50,000 check. Stone founded the company in 2007 with his childhood friend Mark Lurie. They were both college seniors at Boston-area schools who had experienced the “archaic” process of sifting through paper binders to learn about study abroad programs at their schools, Stone says. The two wanted to develop a more efficient database enabling students to search for study abroad programs the way they would for hotels on a site like TripAdvisor.

“We turned down corporate jobs to go back home for no salary and work out of our basements,” Stone says.

They nabbed Tufts University as their first client, creating a study abroad evaluation tool to meet the school’s needs, says Stone. In 2008 Stone and Lurie convinced a third childhood friend, Adam Miller, to move back from a startup consulting gig in California and join Abroad101. They even helped him make the trip, visiting schools along the way—like the University of Texas at Austin, Tulane University, and Emory University—to court as customers.

Abroad101 now provides study abroad evaluation tools to 215 colleges, which in turn supply the data that helps it best match students with the program they’re looking for. It’s the largest centralized collection of study abroad data, Stone says.

“When we started the prototype, it was just creating an online database of program evaluations,” Stone says. “The website is a lot more sophisticated and interactive for students now.”

So, a Harvard student looking to study a language program in France for the summer can input these criteria into the Abroad101 website and find a list of programs that suit her needs and are approved for credit by her university. Like TripAdvisor, Abroad101 aggregates evaluation data to give the abroad programs ratings in certain categories—like academic rigor, safety, or food—and also posts written reviews from students who have previously participated in the program, Stone says. The profile and search system is particularly helpful for students in certain majors like engineering, where squeezing in a semester off campus can be hard to fit in with the classes needed to graduate.

“It not only increases the number of students studying abroad but it ensures that they select the best program for their needs,” Stone says.

The Abroad101 system is designed to help schools with vast study abroad programs and loads of data, as well as community colleges who are just starting to tap into that as an option for their students and need to access information at other universities.

The evaluation tool is still entirely free for universities to use and give out to their students. Abroad101 generates its revenue with advertising content from the universities that students will ultimately be studying at abroad. These featured profiles and banners are clearly marked as ads, though, and do not impact what programs are rated as best matches for students, Stone says.

Abroad101 has nabbed about $750,000 so far in funding from friends, family, angel investors, and MassChallenge, and is a month into raising its Series A round, Stone says. The company also has the co-founders of TripAdvisor as advisors. “The experts when it comes to online reviews are right in our neighborhood,” Stone says.

Abroad101 is continuing to enlist more schools, but the review database and matchmaking model ultimately extends beyond semester abroad programs. Universities also organize opportunities enabling students to intern, volunteer, or work abroad after graduation—areas that Abroad101 hopes to extend to.

“We’ve realized the technology we built is incredibly scalable,” Stone says.

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