A better after-school special

July 11, 2012, 10:41 AM UTC

It’s cleverly counterintuitive: a social networking service to help kids spend less time on Facebook and Twitter. Afterschool.me, an online directory of educational, artistic and athletic programs, uses social networking elements to help parents find extracurricular activities for their children.

The Los Angeles-based startup currently allows parents to search for activities by zip code. Starting this fall — in time for the upcoming school year — Afterschool.me will launch a profile feature where parents can list their children’s’ specific interests and set other filters such as cost, transportation requirements, and language. What Yelp (YELP) has done for local businesses and Match.com (IACI) for relationships, Afterschool.me wants to do for after school programs. There was no such service, says founder and CEO Evan Fieldman, 30. The company is also planning Facebook (FB) and LinkedIn (LNKD) integrations to better connect parents and organizations.

Fieldman, a lawyer, became interested with what he calls the “afterschool crisis” after working for Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, researching the privatization of public services. He’s also been a Big Brother mentor for six years. In 2011, he founded the company as a full-time gig with software engineer Alex Riabov, and received funding from StartEngine, an accelerator fund in LA. It hasn’t been the glitziest cause, but the stakes are high: Out of the 60 million students in the United States from kindergarten to high school seniors, only about 14% participate in after school activities that often keep students out of trouble. (By contrast, the national drop out rate is 24.5%, according to nonprofit America’s Promise Alliance.)

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But lofty goals don’t mean Afterschool.me is non-profit. “We wanted to prove it is possible to address a societal challenge, generate revenue and be sustainable without relying on donations,” Fieldman says. Once usership grows, the company plans to monetize through premium listings and by taking a percentage of revenue from certain programs. The goal is also to become a major enough presence that Afterschool.me creates extracurricular activity opportunities as well. Fieldman wants to put the onus on Fortune 500 companies. For example, the company would like to goad companies to follow the leads of giants like Apple (AAPL) and Microsoft (MSFT), who already have youth programs of their own.

That will almost certainly be a difficult task. For one, the site is still small. (For example, a search for a suburban Bay Area zip code didn’t return any programs within 10 miles.) And there are sensitivities around services that involve children — even if parents are involved. Of course, it may also take a lot of work to convince organizations and school boards to cooperate in a field where adoption is notoriously slow.

Still, Fieldman is used to fighting through dire circumstances. At 22, he was a field operations manager for Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign. On election night 2004, he spent the evening in front of a church in Columbus, Ohio — a key battleground state — encouraging voters to stay in line at 11 p.m. despite the pouring rain, even when grim returns were coming in for Kerry’s camp. “We wanted people to remain inspired,” he says. Same as it ever was.

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