Some Yalies dream of starting their own company, but others, like Eli Luberoff ’09, actually do so.
Luberoff was named a finalist in Businessweek’s list of Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs Sept. 15, only one of 25 under-25-year-olds to receive this honor. Luberoff received this honor for his work as a cofounder of Desmos, a four-year-old company that develops browser-based software for interactive content to be used in classrooms.
Luberoff said he first conceived of the start-up, which initially went by the name Tutor Trove, while taking time away from Yale during his junior year.
“I took some time off and was doing a lot of tutoring,” Luberoff said. “I realized there was no good way to do tutoring over the internet so I developed software I called Tutor Trove.”
The program brought the experience of tutoring online, providing tutor and tutee with an online whiteboard that allows them to collaborate on homework problems and lessons, even though they may be thousands of miles apart. Tutors can graph math equations, draw shapes, upload pictures and more, all while using a chatroom feature to communicate directly with tutees.
Luberoff said he noticed recently that the ideas behind Tutor Trove could be expanded to include education as a whole.
“We realized about a year ago that we had an opportunity to go outside tutoring because we created something that could be used inside classes,” Luberoff said. “This could have an impact on not just tutoring but on millions of students in classes.”
Whereas TutorTrove concentrated heavily on tutoring, Luberoff said the rebranded Desmos focused on the broader approach to education both inside and outside the classroom. Desmos built off the software developed for TutorTrove, but added the capability for the program to be used in a wider setting instead of only between a tutor and tutee. Thus far, Luberoff said Desmos software has been successful, and is experiencing “crazy huge growth.”
More than 1,000 documents are uploaded each day to the Desmos site, Luberoff said, and the recently-launched free graphic calculator is used more than 1,000 times a day. With over 20,000 people in the Desmos system, and more than 100,000 lessons scheduled, Luberoff said the company is on stable footing financially.
While at Yale, Luberoff said he received guidance through the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute in the form of space to work and a mentor in the form of Bruce MacMillian, a businessperson who was a part of the YEI mentoring program. MacMillian said he still meets with Luberoff regularly to offer advice, which has included help with financial statements and the decision to change the company’s name from Tutor Trove to Desmos. Alena Gribskov ’09, YEI’s communications and program manager, said that Luberoff also plays a new role in YEI as a peer advisor to other young founders, offering on-the-ground advice about being a student entrepreneur.
Gribskov added that she thinks that Luberoff and his team are on the cutting edge of the future of education.
“I’m not at all surprised by the success they have had to date, and I think Desmos will only continue to grow,” Gribskov said. “We’re very proud of Eli and excited to see his hard work and talent recognized at the national level.”
As for the future, Desmos is working on development of an iPad application featuring the interactive white board, Luberoff said. He said he also envisions a not-too-distant future where programs like Tutor Trove are used to revolutionize education.
“We want interactive content not just confined to the classroom,” Luberoff said. “Hopefully, students can do something in class and then review it at home later, while parents can see what’s happening in the classroom. Even getting into making homework assignments more interactive and fun, that kind of thing.”
Four former Yale students are currently working for Desmos, including Jason Merrill GRD ’12, who said he started at Desmos on Monday after turning in his dissertation.
Merrill, hired as a software developer, said that having spent much of his life on an academic path he wanted to try something different. Merrill said he shares Luberoff’s vision of Desmos’ potential.
“To me, I think the most exciting thing is that [Desmos] can connect people together,” Merrill said. “It can connect teachers who might not have been able to share content with each other before. I think that if we do things right, then it should make it possible for people to share lessons much more easily.”
Another YEI-affiliated program, GSM Nation, also received a nod from Businessweek for being one of America’s best young entrepreneurs.
Readers can vote on Businessweek’s website for who they believe is the most promising young entrepreneur through Oct. 20. The top five vote-receivers will be announced on Oct. 27.