You are here

New company aims to level the college expenses playing field

By Krystal Hare

Point Park News Service

Elayn Martin-Gay’s “Intermediate Algebra,” a textbook on local university textbook lists, costs between $44.15 and $147.76 at Barnes & Noble (B&N).

OrgSync, a student organization software, costs $2,500 per year on the orgsync.com.

Studies also support that student start-up ideas can help generate future jobs.

Now, a start-up company aims to help lower student and organizational expenses, like textbooks and software, and instruct student entrepreneurs while offering other services, like business-to-student connections – all for free.

Campus Shift (CS), a Youngstown, Ohio-based start-up company, wants to “create more of a social space at each campus [for] students and businesses to interact, find deals for students and ways to make things better, including supporting their student organizations and providing them with tools to actually start a business on the side or look more into those things,” said Jeff Lorton, co-founder and vice president of marketing.

In 2006, CS founder Derek Haake was an undergraduate at the University of Texas who found inspiration in a professor.

“I will never forget his booming voice saying that if you can help someone – do something about an evil in this world – and you don’t, then you are perpetuating that evil on those that it befalls,” wrote Haake in an email.

Then, as a law and business graduate student at the University of Akron in 2007, Haake used his professor’s inspiration to start his first textbook search engine.

“I took this to heart about what I was thinking with [my first start-up textbook search engine] BookDefy, and realized that I could help students fight back against textbook prices.”

Haake then decided to form CS to provide services other than just a search engine, like tools for managing campus organizations, launching student companies and connecting local businesses with students. CS launched its services in August, now works with Pi Sigma Epsilon (PSE) – a national co-ed business fraternity – and 3,500 students are using its services.

What makes CS different from other bookstores and online book exchanges is that it offers a comprehensive textbook search engine, CS.Market, allowing students to compare all options, including resale values, before making a purchase. CS uses a patent-pending textbook valuation service to help student buyers and sellers determine fair market values of their books before making safe transactions.

“Both [buyer and seller] are sure that they are university students and they don’t take chances trying to sell on Craigslist or Facebook,” said Lorton.

CS.Market actually pulls textbook prices from various online stores and sites for easy competitive comparison with shipping included in the price and a sell-back price already calculated. Through Point Park’s bookstore, a branch of B&N, you can buy Elayn Martin-Gay’s “Intermediate Algebra” for $172 new, $129 used, $84.30 rented and $113.80 as an eTextbook, or $75.90 as a rented eTextbook.[K1]  Directly through B&N, you can find the textbook for $147.76 new, $44.15 for a 60-day rental, $113.82 as a NOOK eTextbook and $75.88 as a 180-day NOOK rental. B&N also offers a BNmarketplace drop-down menu where you can find this text’s price range from $32.41 to $72.79 used and $43.42 to $167 new from other stores. On CS, you can price this book starting at $46.06 new, $29.93 used, $20.98 rented and $58.48 as an eTextbook – with no eTextbook rental options – from places like mainstream sources, like BNmarketplace and Ebay’s half.com, as well as various other sources. Through CS, the sell-back price range calculated at between $11.20 and $23.75 on sites like Chegg and Bookstores.com. Please note that marketplace prices are subject to change due to quantities from each seller.

“What Derek found was that you need all the information not only on all the places that you search, but also about what you’re buying and what it’s going to be worth at the end of the term so that you’re able to sell it on a more open market and then also create a way to exchange safely in the textbook marketplace,” said Lorton.

It therefore offers a tool to find the best deals for student textbooks by providing expected student-to-student textbook resale prices and a safe network to make the transaction without most of the middle people who may make a profit from a sale, like bookstore attendants.

“We do provide services where we make a little bit of money,” admitted Lorton, “but that’s so different than a college bookstore where they cover all of their expenses, plus make a decent profit for themselves, [for] the university and all of the other people who are paid when a book is purchased.”

But CS isn’t stopping with an online peer-exchange textbook marketplace.

CS.Interactive is the current main focus of the company, offering economical online management software to student organizations. You could buy OrgSync for $2,500 per year for one organization or you can use the same services from CS.Interactive for free.

“Most organizations don’t have a lot of money to buy the organization software that’s out on the market right now,” Lorton pointed out. “So, one of the things we wanted to do was give them some basic tools that they could use to manage their organization… We want to build-up groups and build-up the students.”

“I think it’s going to be the most beneficial to students because it gives them tools to manage, communicate and grow… anyone who has a college web address ending in dot EDU can use it for free,” said Jen Chaney, a public relations senior at Westminster College and CS intern.

CS also offers a service called CS.Inspire that provides student entrepreneurs tools and instructions for launching their own business, like tutoring services, and generating clients. This could be a major asset in polishing future business leaders, since studies – like the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s The Importance of Startups in Job Creation and Job Destruction study from July 2010 – say that start-ups are a core foundation of employment in the United States, providing around three-million jobs during the first year of business.

“If they want to start tutoring or even take an idea that they have and really test the water with it – they can,” explained Lorton before hinting that other features that are not currently available for disclosure will be added in the future.

Campus businesses and local companies can also reap the benefits of CS through CS.Connect by keeping students updated on products and deals. CS plans to add updates for events as usage increases at the current three campuses utilizing the site.

Lorton used the example of a local pizza joint on or near campus with a slim-to-none Thursday night crowd and bored employees. That restaurant can use CS.Connect online and its mobile apps to instantly announce a deal to a campus community and spike some weeknight business. “That’s a real basic example, but that’s the point; when you need to get something out right away, you can do that with CS and connect with a bunch of students quickly.”

Lorton is currently unsure of the exact number of students that downloaded the app, but is sure that its services will benefit the student community as time passes.

“There’s a lot more going on with [CS.Connect] as a mobile app that goes beyond advertising a deal and, with the small business management software that’s available, there’s a lot more happening with that in the next month,” Lorton projected.

With the rapid expansion of company services in such a short period of time, CS is hard at work to make sure its services can reach as many students as possible, including those in the Pittsburgh area through its pending agreement with PSE’s chapter at Duquesne University for fall 2013.

“Part of our marketing plan is through social media and through a lot of different ways to get to college students themselves,” said Lorton.

CS is now involved with PSE chapters on three university campuses, creating 3,500 current student users. PSE members will be “on-the-ground representatives” working to expand the company’s services within their own campus communities while earning internship experience and possible incentives for their PSE chapters, like thousands in funding.

“They’ll take this on as a long term project of their fraternity to get their members professional experience and raise money for their chapters to go to regional and national conferences,” Lorton explained. “So we are a corporate partner with PSE… the chapters that are working with us this year are literally becoming small Campus Shift organizations.”

Over the past month, CS presented their project at four regional PSE conferences, including one at the University of Georgia Southeast Regional PSE Conference.

“We have had great interest from many chapters ready to start over the next week or two,” said Lorton.

Lorton and Chaney both hinted about other services that should be released in the future after planning is complete, but say that they are confident both current and future CS services will become valuable tools for students.

For the most part “we’re a collection of entrepreneurs and college students; we’re a young connected company of people that have done these things before,” said Lorton.

“Once it goes mainstream, which I think it will in the next year or so because it’s growing quickly, it will impact the future communication and promotion of campus business,” said Chaney.

Whether you’re a student, company owner or bookstore manager, CS may be something for those involved in academia to watch out for in the future.

Related posts

Leave a Comment