PostNet didn’t know when it named Forward Tutoring its winner for the “Boost This Biz” contest that its founders were seven high school students, most of whom attend the University of North Texas.
Six of the seven founders are Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science students. TAMS is a residential program at UNT for Texas high school students gifted in math and science.
“That wasn’t a factor in the judging,” said Emily Adams, communications coordinator at PostNet World Headquarters.
PostNet — which helps small businesses with their design, print and shipping needs — had about 200 entries in the contest, which is based on Facebook votes. The company’s advisory council then picks a winner from the top five businesses with the most votes, Adams said.
“Our advisory council was impressed with the strength of the business model,” Adams said.
The total prize is $15,000. There is a $5,000 cash grant and then $10,000 for a marketing makeover.
Forward Tutoring has a triangular model: the tutors help the students, the students help the nonprofit organizations through volunteering, and the nonprofit organizations help the tutors through internships and scholarships.
TAMS student Stephanie Nguyen, 18, came up with idea in 2010 when her sister needed a tutor and her parents couldn’t afford it. Nguyen asked her friend to help her sister and then brainstormed a way she could “pay” her friend back, she said.
Her friend enjoys volunteering, so she helped her get plugged in with an organization.
“I created the first step to having a pay-it-forward system,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen, who serves as chairwoman, partnered with some other TAMS students, including David Chi, 18. JJ Echaniz, 18, who is a student from Newman Smith High School in Carrollton, also partnered with the TAMS students.
The “Boost This Biz” contest is not the first contest the organization has won.
Nguyen submitted her idea to the IDEA Competition held by the UNT Murphy Center for Entrepreneurship and won in spring 2011.
After that, one of the TAMS professors encouraged her and the other students involved to submit their idea last summer to the 2011 New Venture Creation Contest, which also is held by the UNT Murphy Center for Entrepreneurship. The students took first place, winning $25,000.
“We’re still in a pilot stage,” said Chi, the executive director of the organization who will be attending Yale University in the fall.
Right now, Forward Tutoring is developing its website and testing its system at a few area high schools, he said, adding that it will officially launch in September.
The entire process can be done online, from the tutoring to the volunteering, Nguyen said.
“If you volunteer through Forward Tutoring, you can volunteer online” by helping edit an essay or write letters, she said.
A person also can build a website if that is his or her talent or make a new banner or logo for a website, Chi said.
“The opportunities are really limitless,” he said.
Forward Tutoring has a list of nonprofit organizations with which it has partnered that will approve the volunteer hours so students can earn tutoring credits.
Each volunteer hour will earn students six credits, and each credit is equal to one question without a time limit, Chi said.
Right now the main subjects the tutors are focusing on are math and science because those are the tutors’ areas of interest, he said. They are helping students with Algebra I through Calculus II, and science, physics and biology.
There are about 30 TAMS students now helping with the organization.
A lot of companies have scholarship programs that promote technology and math so the organization is connecting with those to offer scholarships to its tutors.
“We thought that was a valuable thing,” Nguyen said.
The organization is using some of the money it’s received from each of the contests it’s won to offer scholarships.
The service will be offered in the North Texas area, but by the end of the fall semester, the students are planning to launch similar programs at each of their colleges.
Nguyen, who will be attending the University of Texas at Dallas in the fall, will help keep the organization running along with students who are still in the TAMS program.
The students who’ve helped found the company, but will be farther away, plan to stay connected as well.
The founders will be attending various universities, including Yale University, University of Texas at Austin and the University of California at Berkley.
They want to provide this to as many students as they can.
Two of the students who will still be at UNT next year are TAMS students David Hao, 16, and William Huang, 17, both of whom became involved in the venture during the spring semester.
Huang said he decided to join the team because of his passion for helping people.
Hao joined because he liked that people could convert volunteer hours into tutoring credits.
“Most tutoring services require money up front,” he said.
The tutors take a qualifying test, and if they receive 90 percent or higher, they can become tutors, Hao said. Potential tutors also have to participate in a mach tutoring session to ensure they will make a good tutor, he said.
Building the business has been a learning experience for all the students.
Chi, Nguyen and Echaniz have learned more about what it takes to move a business from a startup into striving business.
“I learn something new every day from Forward Tutoring,” Chi said.
Nguyen echoed Chi’s remarks, adding that she’s learned the importance of working as a team. “If you have that mind-set, a lot can be achieved,” she said, adding that she’s also learned that students can do a lot.
Echaniz said he’s learned to work with people and network.
“When people hear the passion in your voice, they really believe in your cause,” he said.
Echaniz is the only student currently part of the venture who isn’t a TAMS student.
He learned about the organization from Chi.
“The entire team is really unified,” Chi said.
The team currently is working out the details on how the organization will look as each of them go to separate colleges and some of the younger TAMS students help them keep it going.
“We’re grateful for UNT’s support,” said Nguyen, adding that several professors helped them as they’ve built their business.
“We’re grateful for all the opportunity we’ve had,” she said.
RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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On the web: http://signup.forwardtutoring.org/