Peerstachio Aims to Help College Students Access Help From Classmates

Scarlett Ong Rui Chern, an international student attending the University of Michigan, says she initially felt a little discombobulated by the college experience.

“I had a rough first year,” she admits. What she wanted back then was an on-demand network of peer advisors she could call on for help. Not finding exactly what she was looking for, she and co-founder Christian Guillen, a U-M classmate, launched an educational technology startup called Peerstachio. In August, the company won the $10,000 grand prize as part of the annual showcase for TechTown Detroit’s DTX Launch accelerator.

Peerstachio is an online peer-to-peer social network and learning community that aims to connect undergraduate students or high schoolers preparing to transition to college with “trusted” upperclassmen for assistance with classwork or to talk about university life.

“If a freshman has a question, they can go on the website, find the relevant course, and have access to peers involved in the class or who have been involved in the past,” Chern says. “As this grows, students can add which classes they need help with.”

The company is piloting Peerstachio this fall with two 300-person pre-requisite classes at U-M, Math 115 and Econ 101. Once the system has been refined and goes live, Chern hopes other schools will adopt it.

To recruit upperclassmen willing to counsel their peers, Chern and Guillen are reaching out to teaching assistants, grad students, campus mentorship programs, and their personal contacts, Chern says. To incentivize them to participate, the company will assign upperclassmen reputation scores that they can parlay into the title of topic specialist after sufficient experience. The four-person company plans to drive user growth organically by hosting campus events and meet-ups, she adds.

As for how the team came up with the company name, Chern says she wanted something that reflected “sharing and learning together.” She did some online searching: what do students like to eat while studying? “Pistachio seemed to fit best,” she says, and from there, adding “peer” to the name seemed like a no-brainer.

Chern says Peerstachio has plenty of company in the ed tech space, and mentions Piazza as a competitor. However, she says her company is “bringing something different because we’re trying to make it a more responsive way to learn. We want to highlight pre-requisites and the courses they really need help on.”

In the future, Peerstachio wants to also help students cope with student life issues, such as dealing with stress or how to cope with new environments. “We hope this can be a resource to help and guide them through their time at college,” Chern says.

Peerstachio plans to continue raising money through grants and business competition prizes, and has already scored some backing from U-M’s Zell Lurie Institute. Once the co-founders graduate in the spring, Chern says they’ll begin applying to incubator programs.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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