Education / Philadelphia / Startups

A trio of college juniors have spent the last few years digitizing the school hall pass

The edtech startup with Montgomery County roots built with safety concerns in mind, allowing for school administrators and staff to see when students are out of their classrooms at any given time.

SmartPass at the International Society for Technology in Education conference in 2019. (Courtesy photo)

When Dhruv Sringari, Will Gulian and Peter Luba were juniors at Methacton High School in Montgomery County four years ago, they began working on a tech project with the school’s vice principal.

The first iteration of their idea ultimately failed, like many early startup ideas do —  “It was an awful product to say the least,” said Sringari, now a junior studying computer science at Penn State University.

But it lead them to their current startup. SmartPass is a digital sign-out sheet for schools to have a record of where students visit outside their classrooms each day. Instead of carrying around a wooden sign or having a written log about when a student goes to the bathroom in the middle of class or visits the nurse’s office, the student checks in to those locations on their school’s SmartPass account.

Contrary to some parents’ concerns, the platform isn’t tracking a students’ location — its record is based purely on the honor system, the founders say. And while the idea might have been hard to imagine a few years ago, as more schools shift to a one-to-one device program or have to rely on technology for digital learning, it’s increasingly common a student will cary an iPad or Chromebook with them throughout the day.

The original idea for the platform was based in safety and accountability. Think of an emergency like an intruder drill or bomb threat: Administrators can see who’s out of their classrooms when a lockdown occurs. But in the last year, the cofounders have expanded the platform’s usage to include helpful contact tracing and capacity abilities, in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, if a student tests positive, the school can more easily track down who may have run into them in the bathroom or front office.

It also shows those in the school if a certain bathroom already has a handful of people in it, in case someone wants to wait until it’s less frequented, or school officials want to ensure social distancing is achievable.

SmartPass, in its current form, was built by the three students with a handful of advisors and a small team. The trio still run its day-to-day operations as college students at different universities: Sringari is at Penn State, Luba attends Lehigh University and Gulian is at Georgia Tech. Each of their majors has a technical focus, but Luba called the business their own version of “entrepreneurial classes.”

“And something extremely notable is that this company, this money is helping us pay our way through college,” Luba added.

In recent months, they’ve gotten close to 200 schools using the product, representing about 200,000 students and staff members across 30 states, the cofounders said. Pricing is on a few-dollars-per-student basis, cofounders said. The new pandemic product offerings, which pushed the company’s growth in the last year, jumped sales up about 400% from last year, they added. It’s their first profitable year as a result.

The trio said they weren’t sure if in a year from now, when it’s time to graduate, if they’ll make the company their full-time commitments. They like the idea of seeing where it could go, or entertaining other opportunities, but said it’s been huge in shaping their professional lives so far.

“It’s also just been a huge growth tool in general,” Sringari said. “We’re still in college, and we made all the mistakes when we were young. We get to learn from that, and it’s been a wonderful experience.”

Companies: Lehigh University / Penn State

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