The idea for a company called NoteShark formed in the entrepreneurial arm of the Institute for Student Business Education, almost a year and a half ago when Medill then-freshman Derrick Lee found himself in a class that expected him to read more than 200 pages a night.
Wishing he had both an idea for a business pursuit and a way to manage all his work, Lee found a way the two could be in sync. With his friend McCormick then-freshman Wyatt Cook, the two formed NoteShark, a user-friendly, student-centric site that allows Northwestern students to buy and sell notes for difficult classes.
“I think people recognize but don’t address that a lot of student groups like Greek organizations or professional groups have drop boxes of material that they share with each other,” Lee said. “But there’s a lot of people that don’t have access to those kinds of things, so we want to give more access to people.”
Now sophomores, the two, along with Weinberg sophomore Russell Marriott, are ready to launch their marketing campaign sometime in the next couple weeks.
“There are other sites like Course Hero and Chegg, but I feel like we’re different in that it’s actually Northwestern students that people can put a face to,” said Marriott. “[Our notetakers] are very diligent. We know all the notetakers personally and we read through all the notes.”
Since their acceptance into the Garage, the space and people within it have played a large role in the team’s months of debates, advising and planning.
According to Lee, the Garage began last fall when students pushed to have an incubator on campus where startups could find resources and advising. Today, the space houses about 60 new companies.
“It’s a very conducive environment,” said Marriott. “We have family dinners every week.”
Now that Marriott's done preliminary market research, Cook's designed the website and Lee's developed the idea, the three are ready to get started. They have had good feedback from students willing to buy into their company. School of Communication sophomore Carly Doyle recently sold some of her notes to NoteShark.
“I just figured, ‘why not?’” said Doyle. “I’ve spent so much time and hours and energy on these notes, why not have somebody else benefit from them?”
For Doyle, it’s less about making money than about helping others. She said she plans to use the site in the future as a returned favor, if only to cross-check her own material.
“I feel that taking notes is really helpful for learning information,” said Doyle. “So [I would use NoteShark] more just to double check that I’m not missing anything or if I missed a class.”
But missing classes is exactly what Chemistry professor Milan Mrksich said he fears with a business like NoteShark.
“To the extent that this is a substitute for students attending courses,” said Mrksich, “I just don’t understand why a student would cheat themselves out of their education and the investment that they make in their education.”
Lee, Wyatt and Marriott said they were not oblivious to faculty critique during the formation of NoteShark, and they talked to a number of professors during their research stage. When Marriott presented the idea to his fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi early on, members were nervous about faculty response to the ethical component of NoteShark.
“Everyone has been thinking about that,” said Marriott.
Lee and Marriott were surprised, however, when many professors they talked to reacted positively to the idea.
“[Professors] don’t have the time to help every student in their class and whatever helps students learn better or faster,” said Lee. “That’s what they want as a professor. We’re not cheating, we’re not putting up any tests or problem sets.”
Though Mrksich said he doesn’t have a problem with note sharing that he is sure already occurs, he encounters a problem in wanting to create a level playing field for his Organic Chemistry students. He says that if the site becomes successful and he sees a clear demand for notes, he as an instructor might become one of the startup’s competitors.
“I would probably put the notes online so that all students have access to them without a charge, so that would circumvent the need for the service,” Mrksich said.
Despite the criticism that comes with many new companies, Marriott said he thinks the future looks bright.
“We’re very optimistic about what this can become,” he said.
Doyle said that it’s incredibly easy to become a notetaker, and that students can email any of the heads to find out how the process works.