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Kristen Hamilton
Kristen Hamilton

We’ve certainly seen a lot of activity in the online education arena in recent months, including large financing rounds for startups such as CreativeLive and Coursera.

Now, here comes another startup that’s got a unique spin on things. Koru, which is announcing $4.35 million in funding from Maveron, Battery Ventures, First Round Capital and Andreessen Horowitz, plans to help recent college grads more easily transition into the workforce.

The Seattle-based company has some solid leadership behind it, including Onvia co-founder Kristen Hamilton and Josh Jarrett, who previously led the higher education innovation efforts at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Hamilton, who is serving as CEO, was named an entrepreneur-in-residence at Maveron earlier this year. She’s the former COO of World Learning, which had more than $100 million in annual revenue and over 1,500 employees. She also previously served as Global Director Educator Strategy and Marketing at Microsoft.

Koru says that their goal is to decrease the 44 percent underemployment rate among recent college grads, matching the newbies to the workforce by giving them real-world experiences at high-growth companies.

koru1“Unlike an internship, you’ll be coached every step of the way and given actionable feedback. You do real work, make real mistakes, and learn how to nail it next time, all in a supportive environment with peers and pros,” the company’s Web site says.

To date, Koru has been tested at Seattle area companies such as REI and Trupanion, with a winter program slated to begin at daily deals site Zulily this winter. During that program, which runs from January 5th to January 16th, recent college grads will work on real-world items for the fast-growing online retailer.

In some ways, Koru seems like a bootcamp for recent college grads, getting them prepped and prepared for life in workplace. Here’s more of a description from Hamilton:

“The process of transitioning from college into the workforce is fundamentally broken. Graduates don’t have a roadmap, and most have never even been in a working office. They are entering the job market without the context, specific skills and real word experience they need to get hired and put their degrees to work. From the employers’ side it’s just as bad: they have entry-level positions they struggle to fill with great people because they have no acceptable proxy measurement for quality in a hire without first hand experience. Meanwhile retention rates for millennials are dismal. At Koru, we believe there is a way to transform the college-to-career landscape and to fix this problem, for all involved.”

As a result of the financing, Maveron’s Clayton Lewis has joined the board of Koru.

Via email, Hamilton explained the genesis of the idea and her interest in the space.

The seed of the idea behind Koru hit me after being shocked to see that about half of college graduates are either unemployed or are underemployed as bartenders, baristas and the like.  I just started talking to as many college seniors and graduates as I could and some of their stories were heartbreaking.  These grads have done everything they were supposed to do: great colleges, great grades…but they are not in a position to land a good job that leads to the career they want.  This is especially true for non-technical degrees.  Josh and I then set out to learn why.  We focused on the problem itself for months, before we came up with a proposed solution.
I had this very memorable moment when I realized that while employers are the ones who know best about what’s needed in the jobs that graduates will fill, they have little to nothing to say about how college students are prepared.  Colleges have done a great job of teaching critical thinking skills, but there is a huge gap between what their students are learning on campus and the realities of the workplace.   I hear a lot of employers say they are struggling with recent grads who are not job-ready.  It became very clear there is a huge opportunity to provide a better solution for both sides.  We figured out that what’s missing is real world experience, relevant skills and practice with the tools and technologies of today’s innovative workplaces, and a network of supporters and potential employers to help graduates land the job that is right for them.
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