Gates Foundation Funds Inigral’s Schools Facebook App for Keeping Students Enrolled

Inigral raised $2 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation  — the foundation’s first investment in a for-profit company. Earlier investors Retro Venture Partners and Founders Fund also put $2 million into the Series B round.

The total $4 million will go towards Inigral’s Schools Facebook app, which keeps college students from dropping out by connecting them with like-minded classmates.

We previously profiled the Schools app, which colleges can license and distribute to newly admitted students. The app helps the students meet friends with similar interests, find campus groups and organizations to join, and connect with alumni. Users can Like dorms, majors, and departments, each of which has a unique page within the app. It can serve to replace the Yahoo! groups or even old Facebook groups that colleges or students would set up to meet future classmates before orientation.

Inigral has been developing on the Facebook Platform since 2007, and is a Preferred Developer Consultant. Eleven higher education institutions, including Arizona State University, Hofstra, and the Academy of Art University have licensed Schools through a tiered pricing model from $10,000 to $150,000 a year depending on school size, profit or non-profit status, and need.

While other apps have tried and failed to help students in a similar way, Schools is the only one devoted to Facebook and that has gained traction with both schools and students. Recently, 1,600 ASU admits signed up and formed 18,000 new friendships before the first day of classes.

The Gates Foundation believes in the app’s mission and execution. Senior program officer for Education, Postsecondary Success Greg Ratliff said “leveraging social media…is a promising approach toward improving college completion rates in the United States.” Facebook benefits from Inigral’s success as well, since the app fuels the site’s growth by fostering new friendships — something Facebook itself pushes through its People You May Know and Find Friends features.

Inigral’s CEO Michael Staton tells us the money will go towards building out the product for a major update in March, including features that help students find peers who’ve been through similar life experiences like a teen pregnancy.

It will also go towards soliciting universities with at risk student populations that the Gates Foundation is looking to assist with Pell Grants. Inigral will also participate in a longitudinal study by the Gates Foundation that looks to identify if there is a causal relationship between the use of social networks like Facebook and completing a post-secondary degree.

Staton explains that “there’s a lot of effort going into the academic support side, but not a parallel level of effort going into making sure students have a support network of friends to help them overcome obstacles.” This funding will help right the imbalance. Like Causes, Inigral’s Schools demonstrates how the Facebook Platform can be used for social good.