by: Megan McPherson
This summer, the Dingman Center will be conducting interviews with the eight student startups who are participating in the Terp Startup summer incubator phase of our Fearless Founders accelerator program. Participating student entrepreneurs received $3,500 stipends that would enable them to work exclusively on their startups over six weeks in the summer.
Every college student is familiar with how maddening registering for classes can be, especially when you don’t have the luxury of first dibs. Freshmen in particular are assigned a lower priority, so if you can’t manage to get into a class you need—even if it’s for your intended major—you are faced with having to reexamine your entire four year plan. The co-founder of CourseHunter, Benjamin Khakshoor, encountered just this dilemma when he was turned away from an essential introductory Computer Science class in his first semester at University of Maryland. Instead of giving up on the class, Benjamin wrote a program that would analyze UMD’s registration system, Testudo, and notify him when the class had an empty seat. It worked. After he told friends what happened, he received a surge of requests for help getting into classes.
Enter Benjamin’s roommate and fellow Computer Science major, Aaron Bloch. Seeing a business opportunity, Aaron created a Facebook page to monitor incoming requests to use the program. The program’s appeal to students is understandable, according to Aaron, “We’ve gotten people ahead of 150 person waitlists.” Through word of mouth alone, the demand quickly became overwhelming, so they decided to automate: they built their own website for the program, and thus CourseHunter 1.0 was born.
You may be wondering, “Is this legal?” It absolutely is. Aaron explained, “Anyone in the world can go to Testudo.umd.edu, hit ‘schedule of classes’, look up the different classes, look up the teachers, look up the times, and see how many seats there are. It’s public data that anyone is able to access.” CourseHunter 1.0, which notifies students of empty seats in a closed class, is currently looking to expand to interface with registration systems at universities across the country.
Achieving a fully realized vision for CourseHunter 1.0 would be impressive enough, but Aaron and Benjamin are after an even bigger fish, CourseHunter 2.0. This version of CourseHunter would automatically place students in classes once a seat opens up, essentially making their website a replacement for existing university registration systems. It would require CourseHunter to become a subscription service for universities, along the same lines as Blackboard. Aaron is optimistic that CourseHunter will gain credibility and traction in the market, especially at University of Maryland, which is renowned for celebrating innovation and entrepreneurship: “We already know that [Testudo’s] waitlist system doesn’t work…we can make it better. We have the proof.” Improving the registration system isn’t the only plus for universities. Aaron added, “We’ll have tons of data on classes to say ‘you need more resources in this department, you need more seats here.'” The system would also save on manpower and time spent on monitoring registration, potentially saving universities hundreds of thousands of dollars.
During the course of Terp Startup, Aaron and Benjamin are hoping to make an initial connection with University of Maryland that could lead to a contract to use CourseHunter for registration. They’re also looking to market their existing service to other universities by appointing campus ambassadors to set up tables and drive new users to their site.
Even if CourseHunter doesn’t pan out, Aaron says he won’t give up on entrepreneurship. “I am an entrepreneurial spirit in everything I do,” he told me, dating back to the third grade when he collected leftover bags of chips from hot lunches and sold them back to his classmates the next day for 50 cents each. Where others shy away from the risk-taking nature of entrepreneurship, he gets a rush out of it:
“I love finding new ways of making money, finding new ways to solve needs, innovating. Once CourseHunter takes off, it’s on to the next entrepreneurial venture!”
To find out more about CourseHunter, visit their website: www.thecoursehunter.com