With $500k, Modern Guild targets college students with online career coaching

Plenty of soon-to-be college grads will finish school with heavy debt loads and not a clue about how to get a jump in the market. But Modern Guild, an early-stage startup in New York, believes it can help students get a leg up on launching their careers by matching them with professionals for fee-based online career readiness courses.
In early 2012, it launched a pilot program with 100 students at ten schools, including Columbia, University of Michigan and Colgate. On Monday, the startup said it had raised $500,000 in seed funding from about a dozen investors, including Alex Asseily, co-founder of Jawbone.  (Jawbone CEO Hosain Rahman is also an advisor.)
Founder Adrien Fraise, a former consultant and Columbia Business School graduate, said the idea stemmed from his participation in a mentorship program organized by his alma mater Stanford.
“Kids in college aren’t tying their academics to where they want to go,” he said. “We’re giving them a line of sight.”
Through Modern Guild, students from their senior year in high school through their junior year in college can apply to be a “protégé.” And, if accepted to what the company describers as a new model of “apprenticeship,” they are matched with a professional in their field of interest.  Over an eight- or ten-week course, the students meet with their personal coach for a minimum of 8 hour-long one-on-one classes, receive customized career-building exercises and interact online with other professionals in their area of interest. In addition to video conferencing through the site, students can schedule meetings, message with other students and complete their assignments. Fraise said the courses were created with guidance from advisors who are career center directors, education professors and recruitment professionals.
Given the significant expense of college and the shifting demands of business, it’s encouraging to see new platforms that help young people better connect with the working world. AfterCollege, for example, positions itself as a LinkedIn(s lnkd) for college students and Pave is a new crowdfunding site in which established professionals invest money and time in exchange for a share of their mentees’ future earnings.
But one of my reservations about Modern Guild is the hefty price tag: $1,499 (about the same price as a Princeton Review test prep course). Modern Guild provides a higher degree of access to professionals and the opportunity to learn specific job-related skills but, as social networking sites like Facebook(s fb), LinkedIn and Twitter, continue to connect people of all ages and backgrounds around interest, I wonder how many people will be willing to pay so much for connections they might be able to make for free.  When I pressed Fraise to explain why the courses were so expensive, he emphasized their “high-touch” one-on-one nature. While most online learning sites tend to offer free or lower-priced courses, the majority take a one-to-many, pre-recorded video-based approach. Modern Guild provides customized courses and live tutorials that, offline, could cost a student even more, he said.
Given its high price-point, it seems as though Modern Guild is targeting wealthier students and their parents – not necessarily the ones struggling with debt. But Fraise said the company is committed to supporting students of all economic backgrounds and that one-third, so far, are helped by scholarships. (Modern Guild pays all mentors but many choose to donate their earnings to the scholarship fund). In the coming year, he also said that they plan to offer online tutorials and workshops that are less comprehensive but free – for example, a speaker series on interviewing or specific industries.
To date, the company has attracted 200 mentors, which it says could support 2,000 students. In its first application period, which just closed, Modern Guild said it received 4,000 applications for 50 spots.
Image by iko via Shutterstock.