February 9, 2011; Source: Fast Company | It's hard to tell which is more newsworthy – the fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made its first equity investment in a for-profit company or which one it chose to back. The $2 million cash infusion from the foundation's program-related investment is meant to help Inigral, an educational technology startup, get more colleges and universities to install its Schools App, which is used to create private, branded social networks for students who are on Facebook.
According to Fast Company, the Gates' investment signals the foundation's belief that social media and the interactions and connections it creates "can actually make a measurable improvement in the rate of students who complete college, which hovers at a dismal 56 % nationwide." Inigral CEO Michael Staton says its Schools App allows students to "share information, express themselves, find friends, start projects, and find opportunities to get involved."
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In an announcement from Gates, Greg Ratliff, senior program officer for Education, Postsecondary Success, said the investment "reflects our interest in supporting innovative education technology and approaches with the potential to improve student success – especially among students who are the first in their family to attend college. Leveraging social media to facilitate a student's integration into academic and campus life is a promising approach toward improving college completion rates in the United States."—Bruce Trachtenberg