Dehyu Sinyan tells a story any number of college students can relate to.
Say you’re starting off your college career with a math or science class and it’s not too far into the course when you run into trouble understanding some of the material. So you need a tutor, someone who’s not only taken that same course but has mastered the material and has the interpersonal skills to help you conquer the problems. The big problem is it’s not easy finding that best tutor for your needs.
Therein lies the foundation of Sinyan pre-launch venture TutorCraze, a marketplace for tutors housed in a Baltimore region that has been called one of the country’s best places to found an edtech startup. A public launch is slated for next month.
Interested in being a tutor (starting with math and science in and around Baltimore)? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sinyan, 25, was born in Washington D.C. and grew up in Takoma Park. He currently lives in Silver Spring while working full-time as a Lockheed Martin systems engineer. Dehyu, whose parents hail from Liberia in West Africa, earned a degree in Information Systems in 2009 from University of Maryland Baltimore County.
So what drove Sinyan to start TutorCraze?
“One of the main things I realized as an undergraduate is that tutoring centers just aren’t that good,” said Sinyan. “Three reasons why: First, there’s a lack of availability. After 5:00pm, you’re pretty much on your own. Second, you often find group sessions versus one on one tutoring attention. So, basically you’re going there and you won’t have one tutor to every one student, which is not good. The third reason is there’s no validation for tutors. I don’t know if a tutor is good or how to qualify a tutor at all,” he says.
Sinyan credits a UMBC course on entrepreneurship and innovation and his adviser Dr. Nagaraj Neerchal, chair of UMBC’s Math and Statistics Department, for helping him develop a number of ideas that evolved into TutorCraze. Built as a web-based portal, TutorCraze is essentially “the Angie’s List for finding a college tutor,” said Sinyan, who presented at October’s Columbia Tech Breakfast.
Over the last three months, Sinyan has partnered with a Columbia-based web dev shop Firejack Technologies to get the site ready for its full launch, scheduled for Jan. 15, 2013. Tutors can begin enrolling themselves on the site starting today, 2012, Sinyan said. Sinyan plans to start small for now in building TutorCraze’s roster of tutors and students.
“We want to start at community colleges like CCBC and HCC and then later target schools like UMBC,” says Dehyu. “The need at a community college is very high because you have a lot of commuter students who struggle to find the help right away when they need it.”
The site’s core function allows a student to login to the TutorCraze site and search for a tutor enrolled in the system and who matches the student’s academic tutoring needs. Over time as the site picks up more enrolled tutors and student users, the site will aggregates ratings, reviews and recommendations on tutors so students have a better way to pick the highest quality tutor for their needs. Sinyan says he expects TutorCraze to take off initially with pre-calculus and calculus students because these courses tend to have high failure rates.
“The big takeaway here is most college students don’t have a lot of money. So we make up for that by deploying a dynamic pricing rate in the site,” says Dehyu. Tutors newly enrolled on the site can’t charge initially more than $7 per hour. A tutor’s pricing rate can increase to a maximum of $12 based on the positive strength of their ratings and reviews. Likewise, a tutor’s price can fluctuate between $7-$12 based on the nature of those ratings and reviews.
“What this does is help us to not compromise on quality of tutors while keeping prices affordable,” said Sinyan.
Ultimately, Sinyan hopes to persuade colleges and universities to pay to use TutorCraze as an add-on service for students (such as an added service as part of their annual “activity fee”) on their campuses and allow them to enlist their scholarship students to tutor students for free.
“TutorCraze really can be a big help for students transitioning from high school to college and this tutoring network enables them to find quality help on the fly,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in helping students unlock their academic potential and
do the best they can do and graduate. That’s the big goal.”