High Alpha Studio launches education-tech startup

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Indianapolis-based High Alpha Studio LLC, a high-profile venture studio that was established a year ago to create and adopt enterprise software companies, on Monday announced that it conceived its first company.

The startup is named ClearScholar Inc., and it makes student-engagement software for colleges and universities, a platform that students connect with via a smartphone app. CEO Jason Konesco, the former chief executive at Harrison College, said the idea is to create, for students, a primary digital destination for school information.

"Long-term, we want to provide a innovative, student-facing, easy-to-use student information system that is much more relevant and contemporary than anything out there today," Konesco said.

High Alpha launched in June 2015 to much fanfare, mostly because it's led by Scott Dorsey, who as CEO steered marketing-technology company ExactTarget into a $2.5 billion acquisition by Salesforce.com Inc. in 2013.

High Alpha either brings existing companies under its umbrella—as it did with email-signature firm Sigstr Inc. last summer—or the roughly 20-person team there works to conceive new companies from scratch—which is the case with ClearScholar.

ClearScholar's software is expected to provide personalized news and information feeds to students, company officials said, as well as unified calendaring with tailored events. It will also allow for instructor or administrative polling, location-based messaging and emergency alerts, and a digital student ID card.

ClearScholar's first beta user will be Butler University starting this fall, and it intends to add other schools as customers in 2017.

"Innovation has become an important differentiator among universities, as we work to create learning experiences that enhance student engagement and success," Butler University President James Danko said in a written statement. "Our active role in the development of ClearScholar is another example of Butler’s commitment to leadership in innovation and the student experience."

Konesco, 44, spent 17 years at Harrison College, including five years as CEO. The Buffalo, New York, native got his undergraduate degree from Notre Dame in 1994 and an MBA from Butler University in 1996.

He's known some of High Alpha partners, including Dorsey, for years, and began chatting with them about the opportunity to lead ClearScholar early this year.

"It's kind of a match made in heaven for me," Konesco said about his interest in technology and higher education.

Depending on what schools want, ClearScholar will either be a self-branded app that schools direct students to download, or a white-label app that displays the name of the school.

Potentially, Konesco said, the platform could allow schools to glean data from students about interests or to connect with prospective students and alumni.

ClearScholar has two employees and is based out of High Alpha's office in Circle Tower. It will look to add employees, but can tap into the marketing, accounting, and other subject-matter experts at High Alpha as needed.

High Alpha's goal is to help business-facing software startups grow faster than they would on their own by surrounding them with experts and venture capital. Backed by $35 million from investors across the country, it makes money when its portfolio companies experience some kind of exit—either going public or getting acquired.

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