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Former Postmates COO Peter Hazlehurst is back with his own seed-funded startup

TechCrunch TechCrunch 20/06/2016 Connie Loizos

In April of last year, Peter Hazlehurst made news when he left his position as COO of Postmates just seven months after joining the on-demand delivery company.

He said at the time he was looking for more responsibility and possibly to do his own startup. Now Hazlehurst — who previously spent seven years as the chief product officer of Yodlee and another four years as a Google executive focused on its consumer payments initiatives — has formed that startup, a crowdfunding platform for scholarships called  AngelScholars.

It’s an interesting outfit, one that encompasses both a nonprofit and a for-profit company that’s been structured as a B Corp, which basically means that it’s committed to balancing its social mission and profit. How it works: AngelScholars allows so-called angels (which can be anyone) to support students’ education by creating a “scholarship” — say, to buy uniforms for a certain school, or to help defray costs for students attending summer school at New York University. As with AngelList, each person spearheading a particular campaign is responsible for drumming up the interest of others to make it successful.

Unlike GoFundMe campaigns, which are typically designed around individuals, every  campaign on AngelScholars has a broader community in mind. One current campaign invites young women who live in the Chicago area and whose families earn less than $50,000 to apply for scholarship money learn a language that can further their personal and professional development.

Donors may not know exactly who they’ll be funding in advance, but that doesn’t mean the students are anonymous. Instead, students who want funding register with the site and provide some information about themselves. Doing so allows donors can track their progress, says Hazlehurst. But the students are also motivated to include as much about themselves as possible because once on the platform, they might find themselves eligible for more than one giving campaign.

In a related twist that some donors may like (and others might deem onerous), all funds are transferred to custom debit cards, so donors can track where and when the money they’ve donated is being spent.

AngelScholars keeps about 10 percent of every donation to keep the lights on and pay salaries. (That’s low compared with some nonprofits.)

Where it starts looking like a more traditional startup is in its for-profit division, which will ultimately become a recruiting business if things go as planned. The big idea is that once AngelScholars gets enough kids on the platform and they start graduating, it can connect that pool of job seekers with companies, particularly those interested in doing a better job at diversifying their employee bases. Indeed, as with LinkedIn and other jobs platforms, recruiters will pay AngelScholars for access, though Hazlehurst says how much hasn’t been worked out quite yet. The company’s first challenge of course, is getting both donors and students on the platform. (Hazlehurst expects that the donor network will build through word of mouth. He suggests that raising student awareness will be trickier at first, saying his current staff of 10 full-time employees and four contractors will help find students who are the appropriate fit for various campaigns.)

The company launched the platform last Tuesday, but already, some early investors like the idea enough that they’ve given AngelScholars north of $1 million in seed funding in a round that’s expected to close soon.

Arena Ventures is leading the financing.

AngelScholars also earlier raised a smaller, pre-seed round provided by Dennis Phelps, a longtime VC with Institutional Venture Partners. (Phelps met Hazlehurst many years ago as a board member of Yodlee, a hub for financial apps. It was acquired last year, shortly after going public.)

Asked what inspired Hazlehurst to start the company, which would seem to have little in common with his previous roles, he says that he set up a scholarship several years ago to help tech-minded students at his Australian high school pay for college.

When a senior at the school was more recently accepted into Stanford and couldn’t afford to go without major assistance, Hazlehurst realized there might be a broader opportunity to help him and students like him. “It wasn’t going to work if I was going to write him a check for $250,000 to go to Stanford, but I thought there was may be a crowdfunding model that might.”

He couldn’t find quite the right solution, so he built it.

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