MINNEAPOLIS-Minneapolis entrepreneur Greg Dehn thinks he has a better way to match college scholarships with the students who need them.
Dehn has created Kaleidoscope - an online platform to help organizations nationwide promote the scholarships they offer and help students find and apply for financial aid that fits their skills and academic plans. The service is in the process of adding scholarship providers and should be available to students in the coming months.
Dehn drew on his experiences first as a first-generation college student and later as a leader of various Twin Cities businesses and organizations to create Kaleidoscope. That includes time at Scholarship America, a Bloomington-based nonprofit that also works to connect philanthropic efforts with students in need.
Dehn says there are about $71 billion worth of college scholarships available each year. It's not that a lot of that money is sitting idle, but that organizations often invest a lot of time and resources, as much as 10 percent of the money they have available, connecting with and awarding scholarships to students.
"What companies need help with is connecting with students who are most in need of their funds," Dehn said. "Our goal is to use our knowhow to make sure more money goes to the right students.
Dehn says Kaleidoscope's administrative fees will be a cheaper and more efficient way for organizations to connect with students. The cloud-based online service will also make it easier for students to find and apply for financial assistance.
Dehn hopes his new platform, a for-profit, public benefit corporation, can help put a dent in the nation's growing student loan debt, which now tops $1.4 trillion.
"Kaleidoscope aims to bring $1 billion more to students as a direct result of decreased administration fees over five years," Dehn said.
In 2015, 70 percent of Minnesota college graduates had student debt that averaged $31,526, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. Nationally, the annual cost of college tuition, fees, room and board was $20,090 at a public, four-year institution with in-state tuition, according to the College Board, which administers the SAT college entrance exam.
Dehn's idea piqued the interest of Cari Vujovich, who leads the South St. Paul Education Foundation, which connects high school students in the tight-knit community with scholarships from individuals and businesses. In May, the foundation awarded $373,000 to South St. Paul seniors; 70 percent of the graduating class received aid.
Vujovich says linking students with the donors can be an intricate process, and she thinks Dehn's Kaleidoscope could potentially encourage more large organizations to give directly to students in addition to grants to institutions.
Despite the South St. Paul foundation's success connecting students with scholarships, most will need multiple sources of financial aid to afford school, Vujovich noted.
"It's an interesting concept," Vujovich said. "In this day and age, I think everyone is in need because college is so expensive."
Dehn has already won the backing of Scott Jagodzinski, managing director of the ventures division of Minneapolis-based GoKart Labs, a digital innovation company, which has invested in Kaleidoscope. GoKart supports organizations with consulting, marketing and creating online products.
Jagodzinski said Dehn's cloud-based internet platform was easier to use and more focused on students than the other organizations providing scholarship services.
"I think there are some incumbents who have not embraced the idea of a two-sided marketplace that is completely digital," Jagodzinski said.
Helping to address the student debt crisis was a big reason GoKart decided to support Kaleidoscope. Jagodzinski said his sons have a number of friends struggling with student loan payments.
He also thinks Kaleidoscope could make it easier for organizations to target financial aid at specific workforce shortages.
"Anything you can do to help students get through college and limit their debt, I want to learn more about how I can help," Jagodzinski said.