Private tutoring can be a vital supplement for students, and it’s an important source of income for the individual instructors. It’s also a thriving industry, approaching over 100 billion dollars globally.
Private tutors are usually vetted and matched with clients through an intermediate company, which substantially drives up costs and makes the service less accessible to cash-strapped students. Moreover, the process of advance scheduling rarely suits the immediate, specific needs a student has (e.g. an obstacle that emerges the day before a paper or exam). Travel requirements can impose additional costs and limitations.
Quickhelp, winner of the 2015 Harvard Public Sector Innovation Award*, addresses these challenges through a robust smartphone app that directly matches students and tutors using precise data about location, availability, subject area, and specific request details from the client.
Founders Hikari Senju and Mazen Elfakhani—a computer science undergraduate and a sociology graduate student respectively—met while living at the same Harvard residence hall. They shared a passion for public service work, and between them had extensive experience as both a consumer and provider of tutoring services. “Hikari had prior startup experience, and he loved all the apps out there enabling this new on-demand economy,” Elfakhani said. “Whereas I had longstanding interest in the supplemental education market.” Together, they decided to apply sharing economy principles and modern technology to the private tutoring industry.
The Quickhelp model is similar to ride-sharing services like Uber (where riders are connected to drivers according to location, availability, etc.). A college student studying at a cafe, for instance, can open the Quickhelp app, search for tutors in the area who are qualified to assist with a specific course, and then submit request details (e.g. a practice problem they’re currently struggling with). Prospective tutors can then reply, engage in a short chat to establish fit, and then finalize a meeting time, place, and rate.
For students, this often means getting the precise assistance they need just minutes after their request, at a cost significantly lower than arranging through an intermediary. Elfakhani said preliminary investigations revealed the average private tutoring rate around Boston was 55 dollars per hour. “Conversely, the average rate charged by Quickhelp tutors is 25 dollars per hour.” Tutors appreciate the flexible scheduling, and their newfound ability to connect directly with students at a rate which is reasonable for both parties.
Presently the Quickhelp team operates out of Harvard’s Innovation Lab, where they continue to explore new markets and improve the platform. Elfakhani noted one example of a lesson they learned while designing the app. “We figured out early that it’s more practical to match needs and providers according to specific university courses, rather than broad subject areas like calculus or world history.”
Since their pilot launch at Harvard, MIT, and Boston University, the team has expanded to twenty-five schools across several states, and have added lawyer and data scientist Sam McDowell to the team. Although the startup has limited resources available for marketing, Quickhelp usage has grown steadily. “And it’s due almost entirely to word of mouth,” Elfakhani said. “Currently we have about 15,000 users, with over 3,000 dollars transacted through the app each week.”
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*The annual Public Sector Innovation Award, launched by Leadership for a Networked World, Harvard University, and Accenture, encourages Harvard students to apply their creative energy to help solve pressing public-sector challenges and to foster the next generation of government leaders. Each year’s winner receives $10,000 in grant funding, access to Harvard and Accenture thought leaders, and incubation space to develop their project proposal. Learn more and apply at http://tech.seas.harvard.edu/harvardi3/.
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Leadership for a Networked World’s applied research, student innovation challenge, and on-campus summit programs are an initiative of Dr. Antonio M. Oftelie, Innovation Fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH), part of the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. TECH is a hub for students, faculty, alumni, and government and industry leaders to learn together, collaborate, and innovate. LNW accelerates these efforts by connecting leaders across sectors and developing cutting-edge thought leadership on innovation and organizational transformation.