Web site tutors students 24/7

(U-WIRE) It’s the night before the algebra exam and half of the study guide is still confusing. The choice comes down to a good night’s sleep or a good grade on the next day’s test. At this point, it’s one or the other.

Almost every student experiences a moment of panic like this during the college experience. Now, students have a source to turn to for help during these desperate times.

For the first time, students have a tutoring service that’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s called uProdigy, and it’s an online service that connects students with English-speaking tutors in South Asia. All of the tutors have Ph.D’s or master’s degrees, and some are professors.

The site launched after a Harvard graduate student proposed an executive summary plan for uProdigy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. From more than 100 entries, uProdigy was one of eight student-managed companies chosen as winners on Feb. 11.

Syed Adil Hussain, CEO of uProdigy, was inspired to create the company based on his experiences as a student. During his senior year at the University of Michigan, Hussain said it was too difficult and expensive to get help from qualified tutors for his advanced math courses. He said tutors with Ph.D’s charged $60 to $70 an hour, a rate that definitely didn’t fit into a college student’s budget.

Hussain said he knew that there were tons of people with Ph.D’s around the world and that people from anywhere could connect immediately through the Internet. He said he realized there was no reason why a student at the University of Michigan couldn’t connect with someone in a different country and get significantly cheaper tutoring.

Hussain said about 25 percent of the site’s customers need help in math, 20 percent need help in science and most others need help with essays and additional subjects.

The uProdigy site charges $15 an hour for live online tutoring sessions from a staff of more than 100 tutors. To attract new users, the company is offering the first hour of tutoring for free.

Students can communicate with their tutors through instant message, voice or even video chat sessions. If a student has a specific math problem that needs step-by-step explanation, or if an essay needs revision, he can send it in and receive feedback within the time frame he requests.

“We can help them in terms of the grammar, make comments, etc.,” Hussain said about the process for essays. “We’re definitely not a service that helps students cheat.”

The $100K Entrepreneurship Competition has been held every year since 1990, and it is run by students for students. The goal of the event is to motivate students to take their talents and ideas and put them into action.

Winning the competition was an accomplishment that didn’t come easily to Hussain or his teammates. The executive summary of uProdigy went through multiple rounds of judging on topics such as high growth potential, defensibility from competitors, up-front capital investment, short time-to-market, market leadership potential, stage of idea development, and quality and breadth of the team.

Finalists had to make a 15-minute presentation and demonstration of their plan. After speaking, they went through 10 minutes of answering questions from the judging panel. After all of the judges understood each plan, they deliberated and selected the winners.

Hershley Oge, a legal studies major, said if she needed help she would first contact the free tutoring services that UCF offers, such as the University Writing Center and the Math Lab. She said that if she couldn’t find help there, or if she found herself in need of tutoring during non-business hours, she might consider using uProdigy.

“I personally wouldn’t be interested in it because I don’t get far behind in things,” said UCF biology major RJ Cabrera. “But I could see someone who takes really advanced courses how they would want to use it.”

Hussain said he is hopeful that once the word about his new business spreads, his tutoring service will become a popular choice among university students across the nation. To help spread the word, he is seeking to recruit one student from each major university throughout the country to market uProdigy to their fellow students.

“It would be a really exciting opportunity for an undergrad, especially someone who has an interest in marketing because they would get to sort of come up with their own marketing plan, strategize, and then execute their marketing plan,” Hussain said.

The student chosen for this position would make a fraction of all profits uProdigy obtained from that student’s university.

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