Young professionals entering the workforce often are nervous about trying to network. Attending big, in-person events can be intimidating, and amassing online connections can create a virtual address book that leads nowhere.

Rob Pasquesi began brainstorming a better way to foster professional relationships while he was studying entrepreneurship at DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. Now his idea of taking one’s online network offline has grown into, a free website that helps young professionals form connections online and suggests ways for them to meet face to face.

“LinkedIn is a great tool but a lot of people use it as an electronic Rolodex—they accept invites but nothing happens,” says Pasquesi (MBA ’10). “I’m taking LinkedIn to the next step. You’ve accepted an invite, now let’s meet in person.

The site, which has been mentioned in Crain’s Chicago Business and ChicagoNow, has nearly 10,000 members in four cities: Chicago, Boston, Denver and Austin, Texas. The site allows members to create a personal page based on their LinkedIn profiles or from scratch. Members get emails suggesting other professionals they might want to meet, and the site even recommends nearby restaurants or coffee shops that could serve as meeting places. As the website homepage explains, the goal is “to remove the anxiety from business introductions by matching your profile to other like-minded business professionals who share your interests.”

Pasquesi, who now works as an audit senior manager at a top 6 international accounting and tax firm, started planning for NextIntro while at DePaul, and he credits the school’s business professors with helping him refine the concept. “They really taught me how to analyze, take a step back and think about everything,” he says. “Even now I reach out to them and they’re always available to help out and take me to the next step.”

Relationships with professors also let Pasquesi connect with students, so he could pitch the website to its potential audience and make tweaks based on feedback. These discussions prompted him to add a mentoring component to the site in addition to the networking option.

“When I started talking to college students and young professionals about the site, they mentioned a need for receiving mentorships and understanding more about certain professions, such as accounting and law,” Pasquesi says. “A lot of current members saw the same problems when they were students four or five years ago and now want to offer their suggestions and help these students.”

The site began its beta rollout in fall 2013 and has gone through updates since then to improve its interface and navigation. Pasquesi is looking forward to expanding the site’s presence, never losing sight of his original goal of helping people make true connections. “My first objective is just to match two people and have them meet in person,” he says. “Whatever happens after that first meeting is up to them.”