Learning to connect businesses and budding STEM talent

By Andrew Karpie

Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen how LinkedIn leveraged its massive professional social network platform to become a major player in the talent engagement/recruiting space. Now, a 4-year-old startup in Silicon Valley called Piazza is extending its now well-established online education support platform to help businesses identify and engage the much sought-after STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) talent being incubated at universities.

Since its launch in 2010, Piazza has grown to become one of the largest “educational Q&A platforms” in the country, helping nearly 600,000 students per year at more than 1,000 universities to collaborate online with each other and their course instructors. But Piazza also saw the potential to create significant additional value by supporting the common goals of students, universities, and employers.

The concept for Piazza Careers came when the company launched an experiment. After putting up an assortment of company logos, Piazza asked students which companies they were interested in working for and invited them into company forums, according to Pooja Sankar, founder and CEO. “When we received over 67,000 selections in 24 hours, we realized that the real opportunity to help students was not to connect them with each other, but to connect them with those companies.”

Piazza started its beta of Piazza Careers in 2013. “Because the trust of our students and professors means everything to us, we were incredibly selective about who we brought on last year as our beta partners,” Sankar said. The beta program ended up including 12 companies.

Piazza Careers was launched in “limited release” earlier this year (with investor backing and an $8 million series B financing round). A “full launch” is expected in 2015.

With those 12 companies, Piazza facilitated more than 100,000 interactions with its student users — everything from students viewing company profiles, applying to companies through Piazza, and RSVPing to company events. And on the employer side, companies ran unique searches like “Find me TAs (teaching assistants) of database classes at top CS  (computer science) schools that have experience with Hadoop” and messaged students directly on Piazza.

The multiple value propositions on both sides of the platform are solidifying. Employers do not want to engage this talent in a hurried, last-minute fashion, and with Piazza they can hold more productive university recruiting visits and even engage talent at universities they do not normally recruit from. The serious students that use the Piazza platform are also very interested in where their first job will be and in optimizing that choice over a range of factors — and Piazza allows them to do that.

The Buzz

Digital platforms continue to demonstrate they can be leveraged in highly innovative ways to bring businesses and talent together. Piazza is the link between businesses and STEM talent