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How Three Classmates Hatched a Hi-Tech Approach to Learning

How Three Classmates Hatched a Hi-Tech Approach to Learning
Image credit: Photography by Natalie Brasington
Smart guys (From Right): Josh Silverman with StudyEgg partners Bill Derusha and Jason Urton.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in political science, Josh Silverman spent time in Korea and Spain teaching English and IT. The newly minted teacher quickly noticed a problem with students' retention rates: Not only were his own students forgetting material they'd learned just days earlier, but he was struggling to hold on to knowledge he'd worked so hard to retain during his undergraduate studies.

After enrolling in a master's program in computer science at Brandeis University, Silverman and classmates Bill DeRusha and Jason Urton sought to turn this frustration into a business plan that would benefit students. In April 2011, the three launched a beta service that was primarily a platform for taking notes. They attracted approximately 1,200 sign-ups in a matter of weeks, but only a small fraction of those who joined became active users.

Intent on finding a better way for students to retain information, the three uncovered research proving that activity-based studying--using such methods as flash cards and fill-in-the-blank questions--was two to three times more effective than typical note reading and dramatically extends recall of content over time.

When the three realized that smartphones were the ideal platform to enable such study skills, StudyEgg was hatched. They modified their model into a platform that takes lecture notes, classroom materials and textbooks and converts them into brief, targeted learning exercises that are hyper-focused on each student's specific needs and optimized to respond to weaknesses of past performance.

"What we do at StudyEgg," Urton says, "is take everything a student needs to know for his classes--from PowerPoint slides, notes or textbooks--and convert that all into short, focused activities for a smartphone."

After creating the interactive exercises, StudyEgg distributes them to users in prioritized, bite-size batches to avoid overload. The application also allows students to share their study guides with classmates. The service, currently available on the iPhone, is focused primarily on the Brandeis student body for the present, but is poised to expand this year.

StudyEgg has received funding through Brandeis' Sprout Grant Program, which provides early stage seed capital ($5,000 to $20,000) and mentorship to developing projects approaching commercialization. Additionally, StudyEgg has office space and further investment and guidance through Betaspring, a Providence, R.I.-based startup accelerator.

"The biggest asset in the incubator program is mentorship," Silverman says. "Just last week we met some incredible and renowned authors of iPhone and Android development books. The relationships we're building with other entrepreneurs and with the community here in Rhode Island and people who have gone through this experience is invaluable."

No doubt the trio's idea of learning with help from one's peers is driving StudyEgg's business. "One of the best pieces of advice we've been given," Silverman says, "is when you're starting a company, find someone who is one or two steps ahead of you and meet with them regularly, because they've just solved the problems that you're about to face."

Joel Holland, 25, is the founder and CEO of Footage Firm in Reston, Va.

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the November 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Cracking the Books.

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