In January 2011, Square Crop Studios, a Toronto-based startup launched a private student social network called Katalyst, which allows students to stay connected and engaged in campus life through an interactive and centralized web platform that is managed and controlled by student organizations.
The President and CEO of Square Crop Studios, T.J. Donnelly and his co-founder were inspired to create the private social network after seeing that a lot of college and university campuses were not using Facebook as effectively as they could to connect with their students. In addition, they found that schools typically outsource the design and content creation for their campus websites, making it hard for them to update the content themselves and integrate with Facebook.
“Our business model is based on doing what Facebook began to do in 2004 – providing an exclusive space for the campus community,” said Donnelly, a 20-year veteran in the student market as former owner of Breakaway Tours, Canada’s largest student tour operator. “Unlike other social media solutions, we intend on staying in this space and perfecting our product exclusively for North American campuses and student bodies.”
Katalyst is a free, private student network offered exclusively to student councils, unions and official campus organizations. It has already become the largest company in Canada to provide this service. The company has been in stealth mode until now as they wanted to announce their launch once the product was fine-tuned.
The platform allows schools to maintain their official branding, own and manage their content, control advertising and stay connected with their student body.
According to Donnelly, feedback and adoption of the platform at their test campuses has been unanimously positive.
“College life can be overwhelming,” said Steve Kosh, Marketing and Communications Manager from Mohawk College, one of the first customers to try out Katalyst. “Students face a barrage of information and choices in both real and online worlds. Katalyst provides a welcomed level of simplicity to student life and a one-stop platform for us that is private, comprehensive and controllable. This program helps us manage our events, clubs, discounts and provides students with a dynamic marketplace to buy and sell items such as text books and supplies.”
Square Crop Studios has already implemented private student networks with eleven student organizations to date and expects to finalize agreements with 40 more Canadian colleges and universities by fall. This would represent a total student population of 600,000. Some of the schools that have adopted the program include all campuses of Sheridan College, Mohawk College, St. Francis Xavier University and Nipissing University.
The company also plans to expand to 350 campuses across the United States within the next two years, with close to 50 American schools expected to sign on this fall.
Donnelly told me that soft launches of the program have seen user numbers soar from zero to 25 per cent of the targeted student audience in less than two months. He says that numbers are expected to grow with the upcoming addition of corporate sponsors, such as financial institutions and telco partners, who will help to fund the free and much-needed service.
Donnelly and Stephen Sills, Creative Director and company co-founder, have recruited a team of creative, passionate and provocative thinkers to align with the overall vision of the company.
“Our team is composed of individuals who possess a deep understanding of social media and the student mindset,” said Sills. “We’ve all worked on campus, with students or with student organizations and we understand how important having a one-stop site for student information can be.”
Tell us what you think of the idea of going back to Facebook’s roots to offer a private social network platform for schools.