Remote learning

Creating an app for virtual tutoring took on a new meaning during the pandemic

We all grew up with that one fellow student who had a knack for quickly picking up concepts in the classroom. And if they were really smart, they knew how to turn those talents into a side hustle tutoring their classmates.

Thomas O’Connor is one of those students. But he still managed to one-up the rest.

The 15-year-old Episcopal High School student developed an app called FaceTutor that can connect young learners with a tutor anywhere, anytime, for any subject. He dubbed it an “Uber for tutors,” featuring on demand help without having to schedule an appointment.

“When [the students he tutored] really needed help was at night or on the weekends when I couldn’t help them,” O’Connor says. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was an app where someone could get on and Facetime with a tutor whenever they needed it?’”

He cultivated that idea when he was selected as one of 44 students in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge last September. The yearlong program helps them develop a business idea and pitch it to a Shark Tank-like team of investors near the end of the term.

As O’Connor was finalizing his business plan, the coronavirus pandemic happened, and the academy moved to online instruction. His idea for a virtual tutoring platform took on a new meaning.

“With teachers, they’re overwhelmed because they had to transition to online,” he says. “And students are overwhelmed, too. I definitely started to see the benefit this could have.”

The panel of investors saw the benefit, too. The FaceTutor app took first place, and now O’Connor is perfecting a beta version to pitch in a national Young Entrepreneurs competition this month.

Regardless of if it succeeds there, O’Connor still plans to continue building the app, recruiting teachers and tutors to create accounts and get this business idea off the ground. He says after high school he plans to get a degree in computer science or data analysis—and hopefully continue to build FaceTutor in between his studies.

He says his experience creating the app taught him how to make something with a real benefit, and how to quickly apply that idea to the new normal of COVID-19.

“When I joined the academy, I was thinking I’d start a little business and make some money and help some people who need help,” he says. “I never guessed it could be this relevant.” yeabr.org

This article was originally published as part of the October 2020 cover story of 225 Magazine.