by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JON HOUSE - Future Angels of America: Brian Forrester, CEO of the startup Buddyup, which uses database software and cloud storage to set up study groups for students.
More than 40 percent of college students can’t finish their bachelor’s degrees within six years — or ever — according to a report released by the American Institutes for Research this January.
“Reaching out for help isn’t always the easier thing to do, logistically or psychologically,” says Brian Forrester, CEO of Buddyup. “There are more students taking classes — enrolled in school — than ever before, so we need to give students ways to collaborate, connect and build community.”
Forrester is a first-generation college graduate who finished his degree at Portland State University in June.
His business, BuddyUp, is a Portland-based social-academic startup that helps students collaborate on studying. BuddyUp recently raised $100,000 in investments to launch its 1.0 version in September. A mobile app will be released in January, and the site already has more than 1,000 users. The long-term plan is to obtain contracts with universities or other educational institutions who would then allow students to use it free of charge.
BuddyUp’s office is in NedSpace, a shared office community for startups located on 11th Avenue downtown. It was created by the Portland Seed Fund.
NedSpace founder Mark Grimes, an entrepreneur and angel investor, has been lending his guidance to many startups in Portland for the past 20 years. He started NedSpace about five and a half years ago because he “wanted to build community for (creative) people doing interesting things.”
“I just try to help them out, guide or offer ideas and brainstorm,” says Grimes, who sees potential in Portland’s startup network.
BuddyUp is cloud-based so students can study together from anywhere. It’s free for students and instructors to join, and though beta testing is only available at PSU, BuddyUp offered a pilot version to Stanford and has contracted with Oregon State University and Oregon Institute of Technology.
BuddyUp selects individual study buddies based on class, availability, location, language and major. It organizes study groups, helping students send the time and place to everyone. It also connects students with tutors.
Forrester’s idea for BuddyUp started when he failed a statistics course.
“I felt terrible, I felt like an idiot. I ... didn’t have any support from parents to go to school, no money or anything,” says Forrester. “Failing a class really makes you question: Am I really meant to go to college? Am I smart enough? It’s tempting to give up.”
He had to retake the class, and he knew this time he needed a different strategy.
When he walked into the first day of class, Forrester stood at the front of the room and announced his previous failure.
“I said, ‘Hey look, I failed it, I’m bad at math, and if you’re in the same boat, here’s a piece of paper,’” recalled Forrester. “’Write your name down and we’ll figure out how to get through it together.’”
More than 90 students signed it — the majority of the class.
“I said, ‘How am I going to organize this, what am I going to do?’” says Forrester. “That’s when BuddyUp was born — to make students collaborate and organize.”
Forrester found that 70 percent of BuddyUp’s user base are women and 80 percent are students taking math, science, technology and engineering courses. After interviewing professors, Forrester hypothesized that women are quicker to adopt social technology like BuddyUp and are more collaborative learners.
“We’re trying to take those relationships that organically happen toward the end of the term and try to bring it to the front so in the first week of school, you interact, meet up, get to know your classmates,” says Forrester. “That’s going to have a huge impact on academic success and sense of community.”
At PSU, Forrester became a student ambassador. He moved successfully through many organizations, founding I Heart Local and the Young Entrepreneurs Society of Portland, which now has more than 600 members.
He met Grimes when Forrester was still a student at PSU.
“He had an abundance of ideas and enthusiasm,” says Grimes. “Great ideas are a dime a dozen: it’s all about execution.”
“I definitely expect us (BuddyUp) to go international within 12 months,” says Forrester, who has already instigated conversations in Australia and in Tokyo, and been approached by large companies interested in partnering.
“At some point in my life, I want to be an angel investor,” says Forrester. “Being an entrepreneur, once you get a taste of it, is addicting and you can’t get enough.”
Read the original article in the Portland Tribune