Former LinkedIn Researcher Starts Meritful, a Network for Students

While teaching high school as he was pursuing his phD at the University of Michigan, Azarias Reda spent a lot of time with kids. However, something always bothered him: These students were always online, but what were they telling the world about themselves? “They’re actively generating content, except not a lot of it is useful to their future selves,” Reda explains. “It’s starting to bite them back—employers and school admissions offices Google you. It’s important to build a positive presence on the Web.”

On Monday, Reda launched a new startup called Meritful to address the issue. Working out of his living room in Ypsilanti, MI, he used his past experience working as a researcher and data analyst for LinkedIn to build Meritful’s platform. On Meritful, students build a profile that highlights their achievements in school and participation in relevant extracurricular activities. Teachers and mentors can join the network to offer feedback or engage with students for school projects. The idea, Reda says, is that students use Mertiful to get to know mentors with the same interests, and vice-versa.

Reda says he’s also taken steps to make sure Meritful doesn’t end up a haven for adult creepers. “Students have complete control over who they interact with,” he says. “The interactions are public and monitored by teachers and parents.”

Parents, in fact, are Meritful’s initial target audience. Reda is working with local school districts to get word of Meritful’s existence out to parents. (Xconomy readers can join Meritful Beta using this link.) But Reda also hopes that kids will find the platform cool enough to use it on their own and spread the word to peers. “Everybody is paying attention to the high school demographic, and we want to take kids seriously,” he adds.

Right now, Meritful’s team consists of three people and a set of “really great advisors,” including the head of recruiting for U-M’s Engineering Department. Eventually, Reda wants to Meritful to serve as a pipeline to admissions and employment, where universities and companies would browse student profiles as a recruiting tool. Before that happens, though, Reda will see how Meritful’s beta launch goes and he’ll spend some time later this fall trying to raise money to go along with a small investment from Ann Arbor SPARK. “You can’t unshare the past, but the first thing people encounter about you online should be positive,” Reda notes. “Meritful’s value comes in building a professional network along the way.”

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