Students create new group messaging app for classes
When Vedant Mehta and Ravi Patel, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and School of Arts and Sciences junior, respectively, were competing at HackRU — the Rutgers Hackathon — in Spring 2018, they had one goal in mind: getting help on their calculus homework.
The two were looking to create a medium for students to communicate with one another about Rutgers-specific classes. By the end of the event, they had made a prototype for a group chat application that would gain backing from a professional venture capital firm and inspire them to pursue the project full-time.
“The validation really came when we demoed it to professors and students and they said they'd love to see it and see where it goes,” Mehta, the app's founder, said. “It was encouragement for us to pursue building the app.”
Initially called Study Buddy, their new app, Finals Club, is a group chat app akin to Slack and GroupMe. Exclusively for Rutgers students, it automatically adds users to classes they are a part of, creating accessible group chats for students to discuss classwork and assignments. The app gained 160 users in its first two days of launching, Mehta said.
To promote anonymity, students will be able to change their usernames to whatever they want. The app also guarantees no oversight from the University. Although professors currently have access to the app, they are expected to be purged in a later version, Mehta said.
“There’s applications like Sakai Chat and Canvas, but the problem with those is that when students are chatting there’s an unintended censorship that gets caught,” Mehta said. “So if I’m talking online (on Canvas) I'm more hesitant to talk about certain things since my professor is around.”
Although the lack of oversight and anonymity could be susceptible to academic dishonesty, Patel and Mehta said they do not see it as a problem for the app.
“We’re not promoting cheating, but we're not going to control what people say,” Patel, the app's co-founder, said. “We want an open area where people can talk and hopefully students abide by University guidelines.”
Like many technology startups, Finals Club was made in Mehta’s garage. Mehta said he and Patel worked for hours on the app's features and design, which eventually led to funding from the New Jersey Health Foundation, a subsidiary of the venture capital firm Foundation Venture Capital Group, LLC. Money is used for operating costs and employees, whom are currently Patel, Mehta and one other student.
“Education and teaching are changing with the advancements in technology,” said George Heinrich, vice chair and CEO of HealthStartNJ, an affiliate of the New Jersey Health Foundation. “Supporting Finals Club will hopefully lead to an even more supportive, interactive and collaborative environment for students to learn. We're excited to see what they can do for Rutgers.”
Mehta and Patel hope to expand the app to other universities in the future. They are considering partnerships with colleges and are looking for other ways to monetize the app, including the possibility of digital advertisements. For now, though, they are looking to improve the user experience as much as they can.
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