In Cedar Rapids, Iowa right now there are two University of Delaware students who are taking the fall semester off to build an education technology company. It’s called ShopTutors.
This is the story of why these two Blue Hens decided to grow their business in Iowa.
But, first, the backstory.
Nate Matherson, 20, of Danville, Calif., first came up with the idea for ShopTutors when he visited the University of Delaware’s office of Academic Enrichment in January of this past year. Matherson saw that for a student to find a tutor for a specific subject or class, she had to comb through a thick binder of names and contact information.
This seemed like an archaic and unreliable system, as many tutors had incorrect contact information or proved to be unresponsive. Matherson thought it would be much easier to move the entire tutor booking system online.
He called upon the help of his friend Matt Lenhard, 20, of Hockessin, Del.
Lenhard is a tech whiz who ran his own website development company. For the next three months, Matherson and Lenhard built the online booking platform and reached an agreement with UD to run a free pilot program that spring.
In April the duo won the Horn Program for Entrepreneurship’s “Hen Hatch Program” and received $5,000 in funding from the Lerner College of Business and Economics. The university then agreed to sign on for a 12-month subscription to ShopTutors that will offer students online access to over 150 tutors when the school semester kicks off this week.
“We want to make our program as easy for the student and tutor as possible,” said Matherson. “So far people seem to like it. Increasing the accessibility of tutoring is the number one goal so we’ve focused on ease of use.”
As Matherson and Lenhard began to see the potential in their business, they turned to accelerator programs to get access to resources and investment.
That’s where Iowa comes in.
“We found an accelerator in Iowa and submitted the application the night before it was due,” said Matherson. “The reason we looked in Iowa is because Cedar Rapids is home to many education technology companies and the Iowa Startup Accelerator had a history of working with them.”
ShopTutors received a $20,000 investment in exchange for six percent ownership, joining nine other startups to participate in an intensive 90-day company development program. It culminates in a Shark Tank-esque demo day on Nov. 6, where Matherson and Lenhard will pitch their business to investors.
“They teach us a lot and the program is very well planned out,” Matherson said of the accelerator program. “The curriculum is focused on the business model canvas and the lean startup theory along with a program called Agile.”
The idea is to fit a year’s worth of company development into three months.
The ShopTutors team is currently running its operations out of the Iowa Startup Accelerator facility. Although the 20-year-olds are the youngest of the ten teams in the program, they are not intimidated.
“A lot of the teams are adults, some of them quit their jobs to come to Iowa. There are groups from Australia and Israel,” said Matherson. “But it’s nice working with all the other teams because you can see what they are doing and bounce ideas off each other and collaborate.”
Regardless of what happens in November, Matherson and Lenhard plan to return to Delaware and continue to grow their business.
They also plan to return to the University of Delaware next spring to finish up their degrees in finance.
They say another college is interested in trying out the platform, but won’t say who. The company is also exploring opportunities in primary education. Down the road, Matherson says the ShopTutors platform could be utilized in many different fields. The company may be in the midst of a pivot.
“Were at a point where our costs are very low and the overhead is low, the economy of scale is really nice,” said Matherson. “At the end of the day it is a booking platform, so you can use it in a lot of different fields. But we are just focused on tutoring right now.”