By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
“At the end of the day you can grab your kid, get her into the tutoring session and go have a glass of wine while watching American Idol. You don’t have to skimp on the quality of education and you have the freedom to have a life. That’s very sexy for a mom,” said Erin Ostboe, vice president of operations and niece of myCampusTutor founder Katy Hackerman. Ostboe helped launch the company after serving as associate vice president of enrolment services for Higher Education Online in the U.K.
There are other online tutoring services, Hackerman said, but many of them rely on tutors in other countries who don’t necessarily have English as their first language. Hackerman wanted to create a service using U.S. students. The company tests the students in the subject matter, performs background checks, evaluates their tutoring skills and provides ongoing training. The company also employs a rating system for the most popular tutors.
Hackerman is a serial entrepreneur whose previous businesses include a chain of travel agencies, which she sold to the World Wrestling Federation. She also worked for the College of Natural Sciences at UT as Director of Corporate Relations and Commercialization. Her grandfather, Norman Hackerman, served as president of UT in the late 1960s.
Hackerman’s son required tutoring and finding a good one was a huge challenge. So she decided to build myCampusTutors.
“The scaleability of the platform was very important to me, and the security of the classroom,” she said. “Every time a student connects in the classroom it’s posted on the student’s profile for 180 days. A parent can go in and review it…a parent can watch an entire session. And frankly, that’s safer than having someone in your house. You can download and upload documents. File sharing was one of the things that was really important. You can save on gas, it’s convenient, and it’s a safe, innovative way to help kids when they’re struggling. ”
One session costs $60 per hour but the company offers packages. If a parent buys 10 sessions they may pay only $40 an hour. The first half-hour session is free, Ostboe said.
“I think this is very creative and a great opportunity to conserve time and energy and resources,” said Dinny Peterson, parent of a student who got tutoring through the company’s pilot program. Her daughter, she said, is reluctant to embrace new things and so wasn’t as keen on the service as she was. But, she said, “As a parent it makes perfect sense. I liked it because of the convenience. And, of course, you could go and choose your tutor and read all about them.” Initially, she said, there were audio bugs, but she was assured those had been worked out.
So far, in pilot sessions mainly through local school districts, the company has logged about 600 sessions. It is a member of the Capital Factory incubator and has its soft launch on September 17.
“I’m a partner and mentor at Capital Factory and they were one of the companies admitted into incubator,” said Johannes Larcher, senior vice president international of Hulu. “I got to know Katy and her team and decided to become an investor and advisor. I think they are looking at an opportunity that’s quite significant overall,” he said. “The tutoring market is a $10 billion dollar market and it’s ripe for disruption.”
Hackerman said the company was initially focused on central Texas and was trying to build consumer sales as well as partner with institutions. But they also plan to help post secondary, for-profit institutions with retention problems. She’d like to build a multi-million dollar company that benefits Austin’s economy. But she also suspects traditional tutoring companies may make a bid for her platform. Right now, she’s just busy building it.
“Katy is a very passionate, driven person,” said Larcher. “She has relevant relationships in the space and she’s an accomplished business woman in own right…it’s a very interesting early stage company doing really interesting things.”