Koru Raises $8M to Connect Tech Employers, Recent Grads

Seattle startup Koru has raised $8 million to continue growing its business at the intersection of recruiting for high-growth technology companies and training for recent college graduates.

The Series A funding round was led by Seattle-based Maveron, with new investors City Light Capital and Trilogy Equity Partners and previous backers Battery Ventures and First Round Capital also participating.

After opening in its home market in early 2014, Koru held its first programs in San Francisco last September and in Boston earlier this month.

Recent or soon-to-be college graduates apply to Koru programs, which involve experiential learning on real business challenges set forth by Koru’s partner employers. The startup works with more than 30 employers—which pay Koru for each hire they make from its participants—including brand names LinkedIn, Care.com, and Zillow, as well as smaller startups, such as Remind. (See a full list at bottom.)

Participants pay tuition starting at $1,749 for shorter KoruX programs and $2,849 for its three-week “immersive” programs. In exchange, they receive training, lots of feedback and coaching, access to professional networks, and the chance to present directly to executives of the partner companies, some of which have implemented ideas from Koru participants. Those who complete the program get formal interviews at Koru employer partners.

Co-founder and CEO Kristen Hamilton, pictured at top, says Koru has run nearly 20 programs with “hundreds” of students or recent graduates participating. She says 85 percent of participants have been hired.

Koru LogoHamilton says high-growth employers are looking for skills and attributes in their entry-level hires that many recent graduates aren’t getting at college. These include grit, curiosity, analytical rigor, and the ability to drive business impact, she says.

“We know how to look for that, how to assess for it, and how to make sure to train for it,” Hamilton says. “That’s where our particular value comes.”

Koru’s acceptance rate has been about 25 percent thus far. It is accepting applications now for its Spring programs, which begin in March.

While the program prices might make a debt-burdened recent graduate wince, Koru offers need-based scholarships—some in partnership with rapper Nas, an investor—and payment plans. Koru lets some of its best applicants defer payment, with no interest, until after they get a job.

“We’re trying all sorts of different ways to help when people have financial needs,” Hamilton says, adding that Koru aspires to “level the playing field so that anyone who has shown what they can do… gets the opportunity to have a great career, to work at companies who need them.”

She says employers also realize that they need to look beyond the usual, easily accessible talent pools to find “the best of the best.”

Koru will use the new capital to support growth in the three cities where it operates, increasing capacity through partnerships with more colleges and employers, and marketing.

The company is also investing in technology. It’s abbreviated KoruX programs include an online component, focusing on project management and collaboration skills. “It gives people an opportunity to learn to collaborate at a distance,” Hamilton says. “That is very much a reality in today’s global environment.”

The funding follows a 2013 seed financing led by Maveron, and with participation from Battery Ventures, First Round Capital, a16z seed, and individual investors, including rapper Nas, bringing total investment in Koru to $12.6 million.

Koru’s employer partners include: Amobee, Avvo, Azuqua, Backupify, BevyUp, Care.com, EnergySavvy, Funding Circle, Gravity Payments, HubSpot, Institute for Systems Biology, Intentional Futures, Julep, LinkedIn, MessageMedia, Moz, Number6Cider, PayScale, Possible, Porch, REI, Remind, SeattleMet, Simplicity Consulting, Smartsheet, Smart Sparrow, Swipely, Trupanion, UrbanSitter, Wayfair, Yelp, ZOZI, and zulily.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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