AllTuition, which launched a college financial-aid application service, won an informal vote among a high-powered panel of judges at the Launch conference on Wednesday.
AllTuition offers an online application that guides students and families through the process of applying for financial aid, revealing information that is not otherwise readily available such as what part of a college's tuition is eligible for loans and grants, and how aid packages will translate into monthly payments after students graduate.
The products announced Wednesday draw on AllTuition's existing database of student loan providers and their terms.
In her presentation to the judges, recent college graduate and CEO Sue Khim explained that surfing the Internet for loan information usually brings up the most aggressively marketed offerings, which are rarely the best deals for borrowers.
"Because there's so little transparency, people are getting screwed," Khim said.
The service will also save applicants time by allowing them to submit information to several lenders at once. Users pay US$89 to send the information to lenders, but it's free to view AllTuition's information. The user interface evokes that of financial services provider Mint.com. Like tax applications, the paid service includes a check for errors intended to spare would-be students from an appeals process that Khim described as "very difficult."
Khim explained that she and her team went through the financial aid process. "We're also all engineers. We looked at that process and had the same reaction, which was, wow, if there were software engineers doing this, it would be a much easier process."
The judges were Facebook-executive-turned-venture-capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya; Jorge Espinel of News Corp.; Steve Bochner of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati; Niel Robertson of Trada; and Greg Tseng of Tagged. They all identified AllTuition as their favorite startup. The company is ramping up at a time when college costs have raised concern among lawmakers about how accessible higher education is for lower-income families.
Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.