A Pittsburgh-based startup that helps consumers nationwide make decisions about schools, colleges and neighborhoods, is raising capital to increase staff, visibility and new products.

Luke Skurman, CEO of Inc., confirmed that the review site company has <a onclick="javascript:_gaq.push(['_trackPageview', '/out/']);" href="http://www this”>closed on$1 million toward a $5 million goal, its first fundraising effort since rebranding two years ago. Investors are a combination of private individuals, angel networks and venture capitalists, he said.

“The majority of that capital will be used to bulk up on sales and marketing and business development and continue to fortify our engineering and product teams,” Skurman said.

The company, which now employs 27, expects a 50 percent increase in staff a year from now. All hires will be local. Niche is based in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood.

“The business is doing really well,” said Skurman, who founded the company as College Prowler back in 2002 when he was still a student at Carnegie Mellon University. “Traffic is up 150 percent, year-over-year, and we now have two new verticals.”

College Prowler originally produced guides to colleges based on reviews written by students at these schools, building a national following accumulating entrepreneurship awards and attracting prominent high-net-worth investors including FreeMarkets Founder Glen Meakem. The name was changed to Inc. in 2013 so the company could diversify into new areas. By providing reviews and insights from everyday experts, Niche aims to help make choosing where to live or enroll a more transparent process.

The two new additions are Niche K-12, which covers schools, kindergarten through grade 12, and Niche Local, focused on cities, suburbs and neighborhoods.

Skurman is also a co-founder and chairman of Thrill Mill, a nonprofit incubator and accelerator.


The company’s name was incorrect in an earlier article.