calling all underclassmen

Facebook taps Houston college campus for new tool on its app

Facebook is piloting a new tool at one of Houston's universities. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Facebook launched as a social media platform solely for college students back in 2004. Since then, college students have gradually moved away from Mark Zuckerberg's baby in favor of platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.

Now, in a bid to once again attract college students, Facebook is returning to its roots with the introduction of a dedicated "college-only space" within the social media app. The social media giant is piloting Facebook Campus at 30 U.S. colleges and universities, including Houston's Rice University.

Harvard University, where Zuckerberg hatched Facebook, isn't among the pilot campuses. The only other Texas school in the pilot group is Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches.

"While Facebook's early days saw it targeting Ivy League schools, the company says these first Facebook Campus schools were selected for diversity's sake. That is, diversity of the student population, diversity of geography, and diversity of school specialties (like liberal arts). They also represent a mix of public and private schools," the TechCrunch news website reports.

Facebook says a student's profile in the Campus section will differ from a student's profile on the main Facebook site. To create a Campus profile, a student must provide their college email address and graduation year. A student has the option to add information like major, courses, and hometown.

"Your name, profile photo, cover photo, and hometown from your Facebook profile will be added to your Campus profile, but you can edit or remove your hometown from your Campus profile if you'd like," Facebook tells prospective users.

Once a Campus profile is set up, a user can explore groups and events specific to their school, and connect with classmates who share similar interests. Only people on the Campus platform can view content posted there.

Features of Facebook Campus include:

  • Campus-specific news feed where students can read updates about classmates, groups, and events. They also can establish study groups, plan virtual concerts, or seek advice.
  • Directory of classmates at each campus. "Like in the early days when Facebook was a college-only network, students can find classmates by class, major, year, and more," Facebook says.
  • Real-time chat rooms for dorms and campus groups.

"This year, students across the country are facing new challenges as some campuses shift to partial or full-time remote learning, so it's more important than ever to find a way to stay connected to college life," Facebook says in a post about Facebook Campus. "College is a time for making new friends, finding people who share similar interests and discovering new opportunities to connect — from clubs to study groups, sports, and more."

With the Campus feature, Facebook hopes to lure younger users back to the platform in a setting where their parents and grandparents can't spy on them.

In the fall of 2019, U.S. teens named Snapchat as their favorite social media app (44 percent), followed by Instagram (35 percent) and TikTok (4 percent), according to Statista. Just 3 percent of teens cited Facebook as their favorite social media app.

By comparison, 42 percent of teens rated Facebook as their favorite social media network in 2012, followed by Twitter (27 percent) and Instagram (12 percent). Snapchat and TikTok had not yet been created.

"Most of us have [Facebook], we just never use it," one teen told CNBC last year. "It's not our thing."

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Building Houston

 
 

Cloudbreak Enterprises is getting in on the ground level with software startups — quickly helping them take an idea to market. Photo via Getty Images

Lauren Bahorich is in the business of supporting businesses. In February 2020, she launched Cloudbreak Enterprises — B-to-B SaaS-focused, early-stage venture studio — with plans to onboard, invest in, and support around three new scalable companies a year. And, despite launching right ahead of a global pandemic, that's exactly what she did.

Bahorich, who previously worked at Golden Section Ventures, wanted to branch off on her own to create a venture studio to get in on the ground level of startups — to be a co-founder to entrepreneurs and provide a slew of in-house resources and support from development and sales to marketing and administration.

"We start at zero with just an idea, and we partner with out co-founders to build the idea they have and the domain expertise and the industry connections to take that idea and built a product and a company," Bahorich says.

Bahorich adds that there aren't a lot of venture studios in the United States — especially in Houston. While people might be more familiar with the incubator or accelerator-style of support for startups, the venture studio set up is much more intimate.

"We truly see ourselves as co-founders, so our deals are structured with co-founder equity," Bahorich says, explaining that Cloudbreak is closer to a zero-stage venture capital fund than to any incubator. "We are equally as incentivized as our co-founders to de-risk this riskiest stage of startups because we are so heavily invested and involved with our companies."

Cloudbreak now has three portfolio companies, and is looking to onboard another three more throughout the rest of the year. Bahorich runs a team of 15 professionals, all focused on supporting the portfolio. While creating the studio amid the chaos of 2020 wasn't the plan, there were some silver linings including being able to start with part-time developers and transition them to full-time employees as the companies grew.

"Within the first month, we were in shutdown here in Houston," Bahorich says. "But it's been a great opportunity for us. Where a lot of companies were pivoting and reassessing, we were actually able to grow because we were just starting at zero ourselves."

Cloudbreak's inaugural companies are in various stages and industries, but the first company to be onboarded a year ago — Relay Construction Solutions, a bid leveling software for the construction industry — joined the venture studio as just an idea and is already close to first revenue and potentially new investors. Cloudgate is also creating a commercial real estate data management software and an offshore logistics platform. All three fall into a SaaS sweet spot that Bahorich hopes to continue to grow.

"We are looking to replace legacy workflows that are still performed in Excel or by email or phone," Bahorich says. "It's amazing how many opportunities there are that fit into that bucket — these high-dollar, error-prone workflows that are still done like it's 1985."

Given the hands-on support, Bahorich assumed she'd attract mostly first-time entrepreneurs who don't have experience with all the steps needed to launch the business. However, she says she's gotten interest from serial entrepreneurs who recognized how valuable the in-house support can be for expediting the early-stage startup process.

"What I'm realizing is a selling point is our in-house expertise. These founders are looking for technical co-founders," Bahorich says. "We can both provide that role and be capital partners."

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