Two fourth-year chemical engineering students have created their own private tutoring service for high school pupils. The duo identified the need for quality, affordable tutoring in Cape Town, particularly for mathematics and science, and their start-up, Academic Medic, is the result.
Academic Medic offers mathematics and physical science tutoring with the hopes that struggling high school students will learn in a positive environment where they feel comfortable and excited about their education.
While working towards their own degrees, Jean-Claude Carreno and Michel Amato are also helping high school pupils succeed in their studies and qualify for university.
“We met in first year, we have similar personalities and have been best friends since,” said Amato.
The duo started tutoring through agencies when they were looking to earn extra money in their first year at UCT. “We started to resent the agencies for a few reasons; the main one is that they take about half the money. On top of that it was a hassle to go through them, it wasn’t an easy system,” Amato added.
Each month when doing their admin they would discuss opening their own efficient tutoring service but it took a while for them to move away from the agencies and find their own private clients.
“At the beginning of third year I put an advert up at my old school, Westerford, and within the space of a weekend I had to start turning people away,” explained Amato.
The response was so good that they needed to find other tutors among their peers and decided to start their own agency in February 2016.
They started on a small scale with only third-year chemical engineering students as tutors. The whole system was run through Facebook.
The service grew rapidly and now there is an official website where clients can fill in their details, which include their area, year of schooling, days the tutoring is required, how many lessons are required and what subjects they need assistance with.
The website also offers a facility where UCT students can apply to become tutors. “Students come on to the system and upload their certificates and details, including experience and qualifications and whether they have transport. If we like them we will interview them,” explained Carreno.
“All of our tutors are currently studying an engineering or science degree, and can therefore explain all concepts fundamentally and clearly,” said Amato. “They need distinctions in maths and physics in matric just to get an interview.”
The tutors are matched with suitable clients based on the clients’ area and needs. All tutors are required to log their lessons on the system and at the end of the month the clients are billed and tutors are paid.
Word of mouth and their competitive price of R190 per hour has helped the business grow exponentially.
When asked what sets them apart from other tutoring platforms, Carreno said, “Elite tutors, good prices and we take minimal profit … our model wouldn’t work for one or two people but it works on a big scale. I’ve always wanted to start something up myself. Something that doesn’t take a lot of hands-on work, but rather something that runs itself.”
Amato has always been interested in starting a business and networking. “At the end of the day the people working for us are our friends, so you have to handle it very well."
Their biggest challenge at the moment is recruiting new tutors – they encourage any interested UCT science or engineering students to apply – and managing the administration of the website.
“At the end of the month we must send 50 to 100 invoices and it can get quite tricky,” said Amato. “The whole process has taught us communication skills; we’ve just had to get our act together.” The business has established itself to a point where they handle over 200 lessons a month.
Amato and Carreno will be graduating this year and are looking into maintaining their growing business and expanding into Johannesburg at a later stage.
They encourage other students to pursue their start-ups while they are still studying. “We’re doing a hard degree but we can still do something else and make more of ourselves. It shouldn’t only be about the academics,” said Amato.
“We’d like to become the go-to tutoring platform – there’s really stiff competition but there’s a huge demand,” said Carreno.
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