StudentMentor Matches Mentors and Protégés Online

3/16/11Follow @xconomy

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getting more students signed up on the site, though coverage in college newspapers, setting up tables at student-oriented events, posting videos of mentees’ experiences on YouTube, and working on search optimization strategies.

As states across the country face massive budget shortfalls, the two co-founders believe that StudentMentor can help fill in where cuts to education programs have left students wanting for advice. “Despite all the setbacks, nonprofits like us are stepping up to provide a solution to the furloughs for career support services and academic support services,” Jafari says. “We’re very happy with the successes, and even more so, we’re happy with the impact that it’s had,” Bravo says.

That success has come with a pretty cheap price tag. Bravo, who is now a first-year medical student at UC Riverside, and Jafari, who quit his job with Nvidia to start the venture raised a “very small” amount of money from friends and family. So far, they’ve only spent between $900-$1000. So how did they manage to start the network on such a shoestring budget? “We’ve been so frugal because we’ve been able to get so many things pro bono,” Jafari says. Though he got a “lot of no’s” when he started asking for help, three law firms, a design firm, a printing company and two online marketing firms have stepped up to help StudentMentor with both legal and organizational challenges.

Jafari developed the architecture and layout of the site, while a team of five volunteer web developers, including a Google employee, built it. The organization currently has about 25 volunteers, some full and half time, while others work just a few hours a week. Jafari and Bravo recruited most of them by approaching professional organizations and using the site volunteermatch.com. “A lot of them are really enthused and want to either volunteer more or give more time,” Jafari says.

Eventually, he and Bravo want the site to sustain itself with corporate sponsorships and other grants. The long-term plan is to raise enough cash to employ staff members, and Jafari will continue his full-time role. They’re still waiting to hear back about a dozen grants they applied for in January. But for now, Jafari and Bravo believe that reaching out to college students is their biggest challenge, and they are focusing on increasing the number of mentorships. That’s what it’s been about from the beginning—giving students a tool they wish they’d had when they were in school.

“We just had to be resourceful and find other opportunities,” Bravo says. “If we did have it when we were in school, we could have opened up our eyes a lot more.”

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